1148 00341 0842
BY HELEN MARKLEY MILLER
JULIAN MESSNER, INC. NEW YORK
Published by Julian Messner, Inc.
8 West 40 Street, New York 18
Published simultaneously in Canada
by The Copp Clark Publishing Co. Limited
Copyright Helen Markley Miller, 1957
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 57-11508
In appreciation of the courtesy extended by Mrs. Stephen Vincent
Ben6t in granting permission to reprint the chapter heading quota-
tions from SELECTED WORKS OF STEPHEN VINCENT
BENET, published by Rinehart and Company, Inc., 1942.
For there's a buried thing in all of us, . .
The thing that haters never understand
And never will, the habit of the free.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
West of Salt Lake City are vast stretches of gleaming
white salt, the settlings of an inland sea that once covered
with its briny waters the greater part of Utah, Nevada and
Idaho. The dry hed of this ancient lake has been named Lake
Bonneville in honor of a soldier-explorer Benjamin Bonne?
ville, who believed that settlers would one day cross the arid
Here tourists watch in wonder while speeding cars hurtle
over the hard-packed gray floor of the desert. Streamlined,
low to the ground, the racing cars roar down the straightaway
to set speed records of over three hundred miles an hour. It
is fitting that this track on which the world's automobile speed
records are made should be named the Bonneville Salt Flats
after the daring and determined adventurer who knew the
long, slow grinding of the first wagon wheels to move across
But Benjamin Bonneville, who dreamed of a settled West
would have liked better the use made of his name on the
Bonneville Dam, which spans the Columbia Gorge above
Portland, Oregon. He would have been proud to lend his
name to the massive structure that blocks the blue waters
of the Columbia to manufacture electrical power for thou-
sands of ranchers now living on land over which he rode
when its sagebrush and sand harbored only jack rabbits. He
10 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
would have marveled to see the great locks lift ships for
sixty-six feet to admit them to the river beyond. He would
have smiled as he watched salmon swarming hy the thou-
sands up the flumelike fish ladders on their way to spawn in
the far inland streams beside which he had camped and
On the maps of the West the name of Benjamin Bonne-
ville has been remembered. But few know the life story of
this soldier and explorer who risked his good name to help
the Far West become a part of free America.
Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville was born in the
suburbs of Paris in the year 1796, two years after the red
terror of the French Revolution had ended. All Paris danced
then, believing that the slogan, "Liberte, egalite, fraternite"
promised freedom to the people of France. The corrupt court
and the weak king had been destroyed, but the people now
ruled France with bloodshed by day and terror by night.
Liberte, egalite, fraternite were still only words, for where
man lives in fear there can be no freedom.
Nicolas de Bonneville looked at his first-born son, amused
to see a head capped with dark, willful hair. His wife smiled.
"He has spirit, this one," she said. "Even his hair has
The gentle, scholarly face of the father sobered. "Daring
is a dangerous quality in troubled times. May the good God
grant, Margaret, that this child may know a peaceful free-
She laughed. "At least he'll be a fighter for liberty, like
"I would have him love liberty and fight for it also. Let
us name him for our good American friend Benjamin
Franklin. With Benjamin for a name, our son will have a
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 11
start toward the knowledge that freedom is the greatest
privilege of mankind."
Nicolas and Margaret de Bonneville had heen ardent
Revolutionists. But the French struggle for liberty was not
the first battle for the freedom of peoples that Nicolas had
entered. When America had revolted against the tyranny of
Great Britain, he had fought, like his friend Lafayette, on
the side of the colonies. For America he had fought with his
sword; but Nicolas was an older man when the French Revo-
lution began, and he had contented himself by battling with
his powerful newspaper Bien Informe, and with writing
fiery pamphlets for the cause of liberty. But when the "Ter-
ror" of 1793-94 had followed victory, Nicolas and Margaret,
sickened by the bloody excesses of a freed people, had
joined the conservative party, the Girondists.
There were two parties of Revolutionists in France: the
Girondists and the Jacobins. The Jacobins were a blood-
thirsty lot who believed that the best way to rid the country
of all who opposed their wills was to chop off heads. The
Girondists wanted peaceful law and order so that the people
of France might live free of fear. The Jacobins had turned
against the conservatives, and the heads of Girondists dropped
from the guillotine.
Nicolas de Bonneville was lucky; his head remained on
his shoulders, although his estates were confiscated, his
wealth taken from him. And so, not long after Benjamin was
born, the family moved into the city to occupy rooms in a
large mansion that had once been the home of the Marquise
de la Pompadour, favorite of Louis XV. In the vast gilded
hall Benjamin learned to walk. In the formal garden at the
back he played, while his father and mother talked with
the other Girondist roomers about the ill-clad, starved French
armies battling on the Rhine, in Belgium, in Italy, under the
12 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
leadership of that astounding new general Napoleon Bona-
parte. They talked of the power of Napoleon, fast growing
toward autocratic dictatorship.
Many American visitors came often to the pleasant garden
to talk. There was the young poet Joel Barlow, who wrote
of freedom in high-sounding words that nobody read. There
was Robert Fulton, who hoped to sell to a France at war his
insane idea that ships could move under the sea and by the
power of steam. And there was Thomas Paine, whose pam-
phlets The Crisis and Common Sense had stirred America
It was in the garden that Thomas Paine and the De Bon-
nevilles began a friendship that was to become a mutual
give-and-take of kindness through all the years of their lives.
And it was from that quiet garden that Paine was dragged
to prison, where in the long months of brutal confinement
he turned into an old, sick man. When he was finally re-
leased, the De Bonnevilles offered him an upstairs room in
the modest house to which they had moved.
There was another son in the Bonneville family now.
Margaret and Nicolas had named the new boy Thomas
Paine de Bonneville for their American friend, who served
as godfather to the child. Although Madame de Bonneville
now had much work to do, she nursed the old man back to
health, scolding sometimes at the disorder of his room, clut-
tered with books and papers, inky quill pens and decaying
bits of food.
But Benjamin, five years old now, liked to play quietly on
the floor of Monsieur Paine's untidy room, listening to the
old man mutter over his writing, Tom Paine loved children
and often took Benjamin on his knee and talked to him in
English or in broken French. Benjamin, of course, did not
BENJAMIN BONNE VILLE 13
understand the English words, but he liked the deep, rolling
sounds that came from the lips of his friend.
One day, after a year of listening, Benjamin tried to say
aloud some of the English words. Thomas Paine laughed and
taught the boy a few of those ringing sounds, repeating over
and over the words reason, logic, kindness, freedom, justice,
liberty until Benjamin could make the words come clear,
"Ah, Bebia," the old man said soberly, using the familiar
nickname the family had given Benjamin, "someday you may
have use for these words. They are the most beautiful words
in the English language. They are the words that mean
Soon there was real need for Benjamin to learn English,
for Thomas Paine was at last to sail for America and he had
persuaded Nicolas and Margaret to follow him.
The morning Thomas Paine was to leave, Benjamin
slipped silently into the room where his friend bent over
luggage, tightening ropes. The boy wanted to say good-by
without anyone around to watch, for he was afraid he was
going to cry. He looked around the upstairs room that seemed
so empty without its welter of books and papers. He looked
at the kind old man who was so large a part of his boy's
world. Benjamin gulped and bit his lip, and the tears came*
"Never mind, my Bebia/' Thomas Paine consoled. "Soon
you will come to America. I only go before you to wait for
you there. In America you will grow up in a land free from
fear, a land of justice where all men are equal."
The year that followed was a fearful and lonely time for
Benjamin. He had scarcely understood Monsieur Paine's
words of farewell. He knew only that his friend was gone,
that there was no longer a kind old man in the home to make
up small new games to play, to talk to a boy as if were grown
up, to tell tales of the big America so far across the water.
Thomas was too young to talk to, and Madame de Bonneville
was busy with tKe cares of the house. And the father, during
his hours, at home, was preoccupied and nervous, starting to
his feet in alarm at every unaccustomed sound.
Benjamin learned in that year about fear. Children have
a strong sensitivity to the hidden emotions of their parents,
and Benjamin often saw his mother tremble and his father's
face turn white and still at any sudden pounding on the door
in die dark night. One evening that pounding meant catas-
trophe. Soldiers of Napoleon knocked. And Benjamin, with
a terror too deep for tears, saw his father marched away to
Nicolas de Bonneville had written inflammatory articles
against Napoleon, calling him in his paper "another Crom-
well/' Even a whisper against Napoleon meant imprison-
ment But the gentle editor who could write such fiery words
had powerful friends. He was soon released, although his
newspaper business was destroyed and he was put under
"Citizen Napoleon, indeed/' he said when he came home.
"The citizen is now king of France/'
"Will he let us go to America?" Madame de Bonneville
Benjamin held his breath for the answer. He wanted above
all things to sail for America to find his friend again.
"You and the boys, perhaps," Nicolas answered. "The
Marquis de Lafayette has promised to use his influence to get
you two out of France. I fear my own leaving will be pre-
vented. I will follow when I can."
And so the plans were made. To Benjamin's delight, he
was to celebrate his seventh birthday in April of 1803 by
sailing with his mother and Thomas to America. However, it
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 15
was late June before they were allowed to leave. Nicolas tried
to prepare his son for life in the new country.
"You are young/' he told Benjamin, "but already you know
more English than does your mother. You will have to be the
man of the Bonneville family and talk for your mother in the
Benjamin's heart grew big with pride. He listened care-
fully while his father taught him the English words milk and
water, bread and meat and bed, please and thank you.
"With these words/' Nicolas said, "you will not thirst.
You will not starve. You will find lodging. And you will
remember to be polite."
The night before Benjamin was to leave, Nicolas de Bon-
neville gave his son the sword that had fought for the cause
"You are my older son, Benjamin," the father said. "It is
right that you should have my sword to cherish. Remember,
it fights only for freedom."
Benjamin felt proud and happy to be given such a trust.
"I will take care of it always," he promised, his black eyes
big and solemn in his slender face.
Then his father presented him with another gift a
memento of France.
"Take this with you also. It is a cane given by Louis XVI
to your grandfather when he was grand chamberlain of the
Palace of Versailles and a member of the House of Deputies.
See, it is the polished tusk of an elephant. An African king
presented it to our king." Nicolas de Bonneville smiled
crookedly and thrust the cane also into Benjamin's arms.
"Now you have something of France and something of
America to take with you to the new country, my son. An
ivory cane, still strong and useful, although both kings have
16 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
perished, as all kings should. And a sword that has fought
for the freedom of America, for the freedom of man/'
Benjamin could not say a word, but pride and delight in
his new possessions made him lift his dark head high. He
looked straight and fearlessly into his father's eyes, and he
"Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville," the father said
then, so impressively that Benjamin was to rememher the
words always, "you bear a proud name, a name that belongs
to two countries. Never must you disgrace that name. Never
must you disgrace either of your countries."
Benjamin went to bed that night with his emotions all
mixed in his mind. He was grieved over leaving his father,
but proud of his gifts and responsibilities and happy and
excited because he was going to America.
And then, somehow, it was morning. And they said
good-by to the father who dared not accompany them to the
dock. The handsome and gallant Lafayette escorted them
aboard the big American ship and left them with a courteous
Benjamin, scarcely believing, touched a hand to the rail
and it was real. He stamped on the decks and the boards
were real. Out there was the wide sea stretching toward
America, and the wind blew fair to the west. They were
really on their way to America, Monsieur Paine's land of
freedom and justice.
Who will win the new land?
The land across the sea?
STEPHEN VINCENT BEN&T
Joyfully the sailors loosed the sails of the great schooner-
brig, braced the yards, heaved at the creaking windlass. With
eager curiosity Benjamin watched the ordered, hurrying
actions of the sailors and listened to the shouted commands,
"A-a-al ha-a-ands, up anchor!" shouted the mate.
"Aye, aye, sir," answered the sailors.
The deck of the ship shuddered and swayed. Wind-filled
sails bellied out toward the west. The ship was under way,
She keeled heavily from the fresh morning breeze, and
Benjamin staggered and braced his slender legs in their long,
tight white trousers. He yanked down his short black velvet
jacket and snatched off his cap to let the free wind loosen the
dark fringe of curls across his forehead. Then he turned to
his mother, who stood at the rail, wrapped closely against the
breeze in her dark red Paisley shawl Holding small Thomas
tightly by one hand, she was fumbling with the other in her
reticule for her handkerchief. Under the shade of her poke
bonnet, she dabbed at her eyes as she watched the water
grow between ship and shore.
"Wave to France, Benjamin," she said, "Our France that
we may never see again."
Benjamin waved, watching France turn into a blue hump
across the swell of the waves. But he was thinking about
18 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
''Do not cry, my mother/' he said. "We go to America.
And there we will see Monsieur Paine again/'
Madame de Bonneville was a woman of strong will and
was quite used to talcing care of herself, but this rash voyage
to a new land was a frightening venture. In her reticule there
was not even enough money to pay the entire cost of their
passage. She had no knowledge of the English language, and
there was only one friend in the whole of big America to help>
her and her sons. She had a moment of complete terror.
"Let us hope that Monsieur Paine will help us," she said,
trying to keep Benjamin from seeing her fear. "He must help
"He is our friend/' Benjamin said stanchly. "He will help.
And soon my father will come to America also, and then we
shall all be happy/'
Madame de Bonneville smiled mistily. "My brave Bebia,"
she said. "You shame me. It is good to have faith and courage.
Come, we must find our quarters/'
Because he knew that his mother was sad and worried,
Benjamin tried hard to be helpful. Patiently he waited on her
when she became ill from the motion of the ship. When she
was better, he took Thomas out of the dark, crowded cubicle
that the family shared with two other women. He kept the
small boy playing happily on the decks, kept him from under
the feet of the busy sailors.
With eager interest Benjamin watched the sailors washing
down the decks, nimbly climbing the shrouds, or swaying
sickeningly at their perches aloft. He thought much about
America, wondering what it would be like. He remembered
that his father had told him that he must learn to speak
English. The head of a family must talk for his family. He
tackled a kind-looking sailor who was polishing brasses.
"Ahoy/' Benjamin said, trying out one of the queer words
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 19
he tad heard on shipboard. He pointed to himself. "Benjamin
de Bonneville." Raising his eyebrows in question, he pointed
to the sailors chest.
The sailor hitched up his trousers that were tight around
the hips and went out like a big bell at the bottom. Pushing
his shiny black hat farther to the back of his head, he
grinned, showing snuff-stained teeth the same color as his
"Bill Boggs," he said. "You a Frenchie?"
Benjamin shook his head. "American/' Pointing again to
himself, he said proudly. "Benjamin. For Benjamin Frank-
Bill Boggs grunted admiringly, and Benjamin felt en-
couraged to ask questions. He pointed to the great sails
bellying in the wind.
"Sails," Bill Boggs said. "Tops! T ga n's'L"
Benjamin repeated the sailor abbreviation for topgallant
sail. Bill Boggs laughed and sat down on an empty cask.
Benjamin asked for the names of other objects, and the lesson
continued until the mate, seeing the sailor idle, shouted
angrily at him. But Benjamin had learned the English words
mast and spar, sea and cloud and land, sailor and captain.
There were other days and other lessons from Bill Boggs.
And then one day, when they had been a month at sea and
Benjamin understood much that was said and could answer
well enough to make himself understood, he asked Bill Boggs
to explain the word freedom, that word that Monsieur Paine
had said so many times.
The sailor scratched his head. "Freedom? That's a hard
word to tell about, a hard enough thing to come by. No man's
rightly free if he's got to earn his daily bread. But I reckon
a man's free if he's got the sense to pick out the thing he
wants most to do and then stick to it. Like I'm free 'cause
20 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
I like livin' on the high seas. Yep, I reckon a man's free when
he can choose the way he'll live and is let live the way he
Benjamin was not sure he understood all of this, hut he
grasped enough to set him thinking ahout what he was going
to be when he grew up in America. At first he decided he'd
be a sailor like Bill Boggs. Then he remembered the tales of
a wild America that Thomas Paine had told. In America, his
friend had said, beyond the settlements were green moun-
tains and great dark forests full of deer and bear and Indians.
There the only roads were slender animal trails through
tangled trees and along the moving waters of great rivers.
That wild, free America, Benjamin decided, would be better
than the sea. Somehow, when he grew up he must be some-
thing that would take him to those forests and mountains.
And then perhaps he would find out about the kind of free-
dom Bill Boggs talked about.
They had been sixty days at sea. The food was harder to
eat each day, and the water stank so that Benjamin had to
hold his nose when he drank. Madame de Bonneville was
bored and weary, Thomas fretful. Only Benjamin kept so
busy that there was no time for boredom.
On a day of bright sun and spanking breeze, Benjamin
was sitting on the deck watching Bill Boggs and two other
sailors make spun-yarn rope with a wheel and spindle.
"Land, ho!" suddenly cried out a sailor from his perch in
the crow's-nest. "Land, ho!"
Bill Boggs and the other sailors rushed to the fore part of
the ship. Benjamin moved with them, his heart beating so
fast that he thought it must stifle him. He gazed in the direc-
tion toward which Bill Boggs was pointing.
There, low on the western horizon, above the long, slow-
swelling waves, was a faint blue line.
BENJAMIN BONN EVILLE 21
"Is it America?" Benjamin whispered, almost afraid to ask
for fear it might not be the longed-for shore.
"Yup," Bill Boggs answered. "That's Americky for sure/'
Benjamin gazed and gazed at the mysterious blue line.
Then without a word he turned and ran along the deck and
down the stairs to find his mother.
"It is America/' he said, bursting open the cabin door.
"America. America comes up out of the sea/'
In the great harbor big schooners and light craft rode at
anchor, sails white against the blue of bay, the blue of sky.
In soft, misty August sunshine, the little town of Norfolk,
Virginia, with its white houses and green trees set beyond
the circle of the bay, looked to Benjamin like a picture from
a book. Dreamily he said good-by to Bill Boggs and followed
his mother down the gangplank. His heart was singing a
song of joy and wonder, for here was America.
While Madame de Bonneville collected their baggage on
the wharf, Benjamin eagerly watched the shifting movement
and color on the big docks. He listened to the harsh shouts
of the workers who carried bales and boxes from the great
square-rigged schooners unloading there. With surprise he
saw that most of the workers were men with black skins,
bending muscular, naked backs under heavy loads. They
sang as they heaved boxes and bales to their shoulders:
Run here, dog y
And git yo bone.
Tell me what shoulder
You want it on.
Benjamin nudged his mother. "The men/' he said, "they
"Why, yes. They are Negroes slaves."
"Slaves? What are slaves?"
But Madame de Bonneville had collected her baggage and
22 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
had hired a carriage to take them to a boardinghouse the
ship's captain had recommended.
"Come," she said. "We must find rooms/*
At Mrs. Hunt's boardinghouse Benjamin sampled with
delight the queer, delicious American food ham and salt
pork, buckwheat cakes and corn pone, wild duck and fruit
pies. Carefully he listened to the strange American talk,
which did not sound in the least like the words Bill Boggs
had taught him. Mrs. Hunt and her "paying guests" talked
with a soft, musical drawl. Waiting on the table was a tall,
gaunt black woman named Caro, and sometimes Benjamin
thought Mrs. Hunt was too sharp with the Negro. He felt
the hurt inside of him as if it had been his own; but Caro
only bent her head with its black hair tied up in a white
turban and said submissively, "Yes, missis." And Benjamin
The third day they were at the boardinghouse, he asked
permission to explore the town, Madame de Bonneville hesi-
tated and then agreed, saying, "It's a small town. No harm
can come to you."
Benjamin wandered through the cobblestoned streets un-
der the spreading branches of the magnolia trees to gaze
curiously at the white-porticoed houses set in bright green
lawns. Pretty young ladies bent over needlework on the
porches or flirted with the young men who leaned solicitously
above them. Nobody seemed to work except the black people,
men who dug in the massed flower beds or women who
walked the streets with huge baskets of laundry balanced
on their heads.
Puzzled, Benjamin went down to the wharf to watch the
big ships unload. There was a park along the shore with
benches under the trees. Children played at hoops on the
grass, and men and women laughed and talked together on
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 23
the benches. They looked just like people in Paris, but
Benjamin told himself that these people did not have to be
afraid of the knock at the door. They could say what they
pleased, with no Napoleon to stop them. This was America
and Monsieur Paine had said that everybody in America was
And then Benjamin saw a long line of black people shuf-
fling from the dock. They were chained together, and behind
them a white man drove them with a whip. With a sick
feeling of shock, Benjamin knew then that not everybody
in America was free. His mother had said the black people
were slaves. He would find out what that word meant in
Down on the docks he walked. He found a black man
resting in the shade of a big bale. The Negro started to get
up, but Benjamin squatted down beside him out of the hot
sun and pointed to the bale.
"What is it? That?" he asked.
"Dat cotton, young massa. Black man bend he back to
plant. Bend he back to hoe. Pick in hot sun. Now, Sam, he
load on ship/'
"What is your other name? Your father's name?"
"Got no father. Got no other name. I, Sam,"
"Is it then that you like this work? This loading of the
cotton?" Benjamin asked, thinking of Bill Boggs and his
definition of freedom.
"Like? Black man have no like. He work. Sam, he slave."
"Slave? What is that word slave?"
"You not know dat? Wheah yo come Pom?"
"From France. Across the sea."
Sam laughed, squinting his eyes at Benjamin's white
trousers and velvet jacket. "Dat's right. You don* look like
American boy. I tell you den. I, slave. Mos* black people, dey
24 BENJAMIN BONN EVILLE
slaves. White man buy, he sell black man/* The Negro shook
his fuzzy head helplessly and ended, ' We, slaves/*
A white man shouted angrily at Sam, and he scrambled to
his feet and shuffled off to work. Puzzled by what he had
learned, Benjamin walked back to the boardinghouse to ask
his mother to explain. But she seemed unhappy and spoke
sharply to Thomas when he grew noisy at his play. And so
into the back of his mind Benjamin pushed that word slave.
At dinner he noticed that his mother ate little and that the
worry lines on her face cut a little deeper.
"What is wrong, my mother?" he asked when they were
in their room. 'We are here in America/*
"Why, yes. We are here. Here in a strange land without
money to pay for the food we are eating or for this room. We
owe the sbdp*s captain twenty-two pounds for our passage.
And we have no money to take us north to Monsieur Paine.
I have written to him for help/*
"He will answer/' Benjamin said out of his faith. "He is
Thomas Paine did write. He offered them a haven in his
cottage at Bordentown, New Jersey, and he sent money to
pay their bills and their fare to the new home. Benjamin
was happy when his mother read him part of the letter.
"You and the poor boys can rest in my friendship/* Thomas
Paine had written.
By packet up the bay they sailed to Philadelphia, whence
they were to take a stage to Bordentown. On the wide,
straight streets of the city, Benjamin gazed curiously at the
pretty Quaker girls in sober gray gowns and bonnets. The
stage was a row of backless benches mounted on a wagon box.
The wheels rolled through raw new country. Over rocks and
ruts they jounced, through mudholes and choking dust.
Madame de Bonneville complained of the discomfort, and
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 25
Thomas cried. But Benjamin sat on his hard bench, happily
watching the land go hy. He saw the fenced farms, the ripen-
ing grain, the neat small houses.
"See, my mother/' he said, forgetting the Hack slaves, "it
is as Monsieur Paine has said. Nohody is very rich in Amer-
ica, but all have plenty/'
Bordentown proved a disappointment to Benjamin because
Thomas Paine was in New York. But his friend Colonel
James Kirkenbride helped Madame de Bonneville settle
into the Paine cottage near his own larger house. He brought
her pupils for French lessons, and soon there was money
to buy plenty of food. But she spoke little English and since
there were no French settlers with whom she could talk, she
was lonely and discontented.
"I cannot face a winter in this village/' she told Benjamin.
"We will go to New York City, where Monsieur Paine
lives. Surely I can find pupils there."
"Then we shall see him again/' Benjamin said. "I am
And I have listened also in my youth . . .
To the trained speech, the excellent advice*
STEPHEN VINCENT BENT
Benjamin was happy to see Thomas Paine again, but his
friend was sadly changed. He looked old and tired, and the
keen, piercing blue eyes were clouded with bitterness.
America had not welcomed back to her shores the man who
had stirred the colonists to rebellion with words that had
been read from New England to Virginia:
A government of our own is our natural right . . . Let no names he
heard among us, than those of a good citizen; an open and resolute friend
and a virtuous supporter of the Rights of Mankind and of the Free and
Independent States of America.
Thomas Paine, however, had a welcome for his friends.
He helped Madame de Bonneville get settled into a boarding-
house at 16 Gold Street, and he found pupils to study French
for her. He advised her to drop the aristocratic French de
from her name. When she agreed, Benjamin was glad, fot
he desired in all things to be American.
"I wish you would not call me Bebia any more/' he told
them. "It's a silly French nickname/' And they laughed and
Madame Bonneville soon had enough pupils to provide
care for her sons. Between lessons from his mother in sums
and French manners, Benjamin roamed the narrow, crooked
streets near the boardinghouse or haunted the bustling
wharves to watch the sailors and listen to the talk and shout-
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 27
ing in many strange languages. Sometimes he took long walks
with Thomas Paine under skies dark and leaden, heavy with
snow. When the first snow fell with that indescribably soft
whisper of icy pellets against leaf-strewn, frozen streets,
Benjamin was happy to see the unsightly alleys wear a clean
white cover and the red brick houses take on a soft glow.
On one of the rambles he spied a black boy walking mer-
rily up the snowy street. In one hand he held a long pole
with a row of clean boots dangling from it. The black boy
seemed happy, walking proud and free, whistling a jolly tune.
The boy made Benjamin remember the shuffling, chained
Negroes he had seen in Norfolk.
"The boot cleaner," he asked Thomas Paine, "is he a slave?"
"Not this one. New York does not allow slavery. But there
are many slaves in this free country whose constitution claims
that 'all men are created free and equal/ Slavery is a black
blot on that constitution/'
The old man then explained the dark evil of the slave
trade: how men and women were brought to America from
Africa to be sold into servitude; how children were born into
slavery, sold from their fathers and mothers and sent to labor
in field and house.
"But you said that in America all men were free/'
Thomas Paine's eyes clouded. He shook his head as if to
clear his mind of troubled thought
"The South planted an evil seed," he said bitterly. "And
that seedthe black seed of slavery has sprung in rich soil
until the dark sin of it covers the land. There are slaves even
in some of the northern states, where many people oppose
"But if people don't like slavery, why is it permitted?"
"Money and power are difficult things to fight, Benjamin.
In the South the plantation owners with their great fields say
28 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
they must use slaves or their whole economy will be de-
stroyed. Well, then, it must be destroyed/' His voice rang
strong in the muted, snowy street. "I have said that the day
will come. I was the first in all this great land to speak in
public against slavery, and I will keep on speaking and writ-
ing against it"
The old man walked on in silence for a time, deep in
thought. Then he turned to Benjamin.
"Someday there will be a war a war with guns, if a war
with words will not suffice. You, Benjamin, when that day
comes, fight. Fight with all the powers you have to make this
land free for both white and black."
"I will fight," Benjamin said seriously, remembering the
chains, the bent heads, the shuffling feet of the black people
lie had seen.
The snows and the winter went away, and the spring
came with mud and rain and bright, swift cloud across tender
blue skies. And then it was summer, with stifling heat.
Madame Bonneville agreed to accompany Thomas Paine as
housekeeper for his country home near New Rochelle, New
York. The white frame farmhouse was built on land once
granted him for the writing that had helped bring about the
Benjamin loved the wide fields and the woods around the
old farmhouse, but Thomas Paine sat for long hours in his
room, brooding in bitter silence, for he knew he was not
wanted now in the small town of New Rochelle, His snuff-
colored coat and drab breeches were spotted with spilled
food, and he grumbled when Madame Bonneville scolded
him for wearing soiled linen.
"I" must vote today," he said to Benjamin one day late in
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 29
the fall. "It is the privilege of every American citizen to vote.
Will you walk to the village with me?"
Benjamin waited on the steps of the town hall while his
elderly friend went inside. Other hoys were swarming
around the hall, waiting for their parents. Benjamin tried to
talk to the hoys, hut they laughed at his English, turned
from him and whispered mischief to each other. Thomas
Paine came out in a few minutes. His face was flushed. His
eyes held hurt.
"Come, Bebia," he said, so disturbed that he forgot to use
the American name. "Let us go home/'
The boys snickered. One of them stooped suddenly,
scooped up a handful of dust and threw it at the back of
Thomas Paine's coat.
"Yah! Tom Paine!" the boy jeered. "Wouldn't let you vote,
In an instant all of the gathered boys had snatched up
clods and small rocks and had begun pelting the old man.
"Yah, old Tom Paine!" they shrieked, jumping up and
down in rude glee. "Yah! Old God-hater!"
A rock struck the old man on the neck and he winced*
Anger flared in Benjamin. The boys had no right to stone an
old man. He gathered rocks for himself and began throwing
with excellent aim. A strong hand seized his collar.
"Drop the rocks, Bebia," Thomas Paine said. "You forget
Unhurried, the old man strode down the road. Benjamin
followed unwillingly, turning often to shake his fist at the
pursuing boys. The tormentors soon tired of their sport and
ran back to the halL The old man plodded down the dusty
road muttering to himself, "They would not let me vote.
Me Tom Paine not vote,"
30 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
"Why was it wrong for me to fight back, monsieur?"
Benjamin asked, puzzled.
"Always be just and kind, Benjamin. The boys do not
understand. They only follow the way of their elders, who
throw verbal stones that are far more hurting/'
"But why do the citizens not let you vote? Why do they
"It is because of what I wrote in my Age of Reason, the
book your good father published for me in Paris. They think
I am an atheist. You heard them call me 'God-hater/ " The
old man shook his head sadly. "They have forgotten that I
wrote Common Sense and The Crisis words that fired them
to fight for freedom. They have that freedom now, but they
have forgotten me me, Tom Paine, who helped them to that
"But you believe in the good God, monsieur. I have heard
you say so."
"I believe in the good God. I hope for happiness in a
world beyond this life. I said so in my Age of Reason"
"You are young to understand, Benjamin. But you see, I
also said that religion consists only in doing justice, in loving
mercy, in doing all that we can to make our brothers in this
"But, monsieur, there is nothing wrong with that/'
"They did not understand. They thought that I opposed
religion and its creeds. They could not see that what I wrote
was a defense of religion my religion."
The old man paused on a hillside overlooking the acres of
pleasant woodland and meadow granted him by a liberated
people who once had honored him.
"Look, Benjamin," he said. "See the beauty that God has
created. In my Age of Reason I said that the Word of God
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 31
is this creation that we behold. That belief is called Deism.
And that belief angers people/'
Benjamin thought this over, but his mind kept making
pictures of clods and rocks striking an old man's back.
"Are you sorry you said that, monsieur?"
"No, Benjamin. It is my belief. It was tactless to put it
into print, perhaps. But once I have made up my mind, I do
"But they threw rocks at you. They jeered at you. Does
that not make you hate them? Hate America?"
"No, Benjamin, no. Personal hate is the part of little
minds. And never could I hate America. America is the hope
of the free world. Here justice and reason and kindness will
grow. America will one day show the world that decent
human spirit can be made the policy of all nations. America
will lead the way to the fraternity of free nations. America
marks the dawn of liberty, of equality."
Liberte, egalite, fraternite: these were the words Benjamin
had heard so often in faraway France.
"But why, monsieur," he asked, "why will the dawn come
here and not in France?"
"Look about you, Benjamin. America is big. There is room
here for the growth of equality. And because America is so
big and grand, the country must give birth to large ideas.
You have seen only a little of America. Beyond the settle-
ments are the vast forests of which I have told you the great
rivers, the wide plains. In a land of such magnitude, what
man can think little thoughts of self?"
"When I am a man," Benjamin said, "I shall see all of
America. And then I shall think big."
That fall Madame Bonneville, bored with country life
and tired of the hated housekeeping, decided to return to
New York City, where she had procured a position as gov-
32 BENJAMIN BONNEVI3LLE
erness in a family. Thomas was sent to a New England
lx>arding school that accepted smaller boys.
"Benjamin shall stay on at the farm with me," Thomas
Paine said. "He can go to school here." He looked the boy
over disapprovingly and added, "He's growing out of those
fancy French clothes. And a good thing, too."
He toot Benjamin to the village store and outfitted the
boy in sturdy American trousers and jacket. Benjamin gazed
admiringly at himself in the mirror, liking the fuller trousers
and the shiny buttons that trimmed his short jacket. Glad to
be rid of the frilled collar of his French shirt, he pulled out
the new plain white collar.
"I look American now," he told Thomas Paine. "Thank
The early winter months passed. Benjamin went to a
boarding school in New Rochelle, spending the week ends
at the farm. The French manners his mother had insisted
upon were useful at school, where the boys had to bow to the
teacher on entering the classroom, bow again upon leaving.
At his long bench with its rude writing desk, he struggled
with the mystery of English grammar, with the exercises in
sums and composition and Latin. All must be neatly written
in ink. He learned to sharpen the end of a goose quill to
make a pen, learned to mix water with powder to make ink.
He learned to take without tears the stinging spats on the
palm of his hand when he made a mistake in his arithmetic
or blotted his composition paper.
At the farm on week-end afternoons, he wandered with
Thomas Paine over the frozen fields. In the evenings they
sat huddled about the kitchen stove, wrapped in old counter-
panes, their feet propped on stools, for the farmhouse was
cold and drafty in the winter. The old man taught the boy
to play checkers and chess, and they talked.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 33
"The American boys, they make fun of me sometimes/'
Benjamin told his friend. "They laugh at the way I talk. I
guess I still sound a little French/'
"Never mind, Benjamin. You speak English well now/ 1
"They pick fights with me sometimes/*
"They do, of a certainty. But I am growing better at the
Thomas Paine looked keenly at the boy. "Are you afraid?"
"Only before I start fighting. They are very big and
"A man must learn to smile at trouble, Benjamin. He must
learn to gain strength from disaster. It is only the little mind
that shrinks and fears. If your heart is firm, if your conscience
gives approval, you will fight without fear and until death
for your rights and beliefs/*
The snows began with the winter holidays. Thomas Paine
was ill and miserable, but he endured the drafty house until
the first of January.
"I shake so with the cold that I cannot write/* he said
then. "We will go to New York City for the rest of the
He took lodgings with John Wesley Jarvis, the portrait
painter; and Benjamin was returned to the care of his mother,
who lived near by.
The city was constant adventure for the boy, who was
almost nine years old now. He loitered on Broadway under
the leafless poplars, gazed at the well-dressed ladies whose
carriages rolled down fashionable Wall Street, chased the fat
pigs that rooted in the unpaved lanes, and watched the fisher-
men pull in their nets at the foot of Greenwich Street.
"A country town/* Madame Bonneville scornfully called
34 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
New York City* "Weeds and swamps come in close, and it is
all raw and unfinished. I long for Paris,"
But Benjamin loved the growing city with its miles of
bright red brick houses. Often he went to see his aging
friend and they walked together on warm afternoons.
Benjamin liked best those days when he was allowed to
r3rnble with Tom Paine and his two friends Joel Barlow,
a dreamy-eyed man with his head in the clouds, and Robert
Fulton, handsome in tight white trousers, high soft boots and
long-tailed black coat. When the men talked of their work,
Benjamin listened eagerly. Paine was writing a treatise on
the causes of yellow fever; Barlow was struggling with his
Columbiad, a long poem about the discovery and settlement
of America; Fulton was working on his new steamboat in
the shipyard at Corlear s Hook on the East River.
"My steamboat will run," Robert Fulton said. "Soon
America's great rivers and my steamers will open the back
Sometimes Benjamin went with Thomas Paine to the
cafes. Oysters and beef collops, cherry tarts, and apples mixed
with meat and boiled with cider into a sauce were good to
eat, but better still was the talk. Each tavern had its own
circle of conversationalists, men who knew what was going
on in America and discussed every angle of the news.
Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States
and Tom Paine's intimate friend, had been re-elected the
year before. A democratic man, Jefferson came in for much
ridicule in the taverns. The President, the men said,
''slopped" around the White House in run-down bedroom
slippers and an old snuff-stained coat. He had dismissed the
presidential coach and six, and he rode through the muddy
streets of the new Washington City on horseback, 'like a
common farmer/ 1 the men said.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 35
"And who Letter could we have for president," Tom Paine
always said, "than a common fanner knowing the land and
its problems? No, sir, Tom is our man. He believes, as I do,
that America acts for all mankind in our experiment with a
democratic form of government."
Under Jefferson's administration the frontiers were push-
ing westward. Benjamin listened to the tales of that little-
known country and felt his determination grow to see those
There was much talk of the Louisiana Purchase, made
in 1803. For somewhat less than twenty million dollars,
Napoleon had sold to the United States the vast lands lying
west of the Mississippi and extending to the Rocky Moun-
tains. Looking far into the future of his country, Thomas
Jefferson in 1804 had sent Meriwether Lewis and William
Clark with a party of sturdy men to search for a land passage
through the Shining Mountains to the River of the West,
The very names intrigued Benjamin. His black eyes grew
hazy with dreaming at the thought of all the adventures
Lewis and Clark would have, and he wished that he were
old enough to be one of the party to see the undiscovered
But now sadness came to Benjamin. Thomas Paine suf-
fered a stroke of apoplexy and began a slow three years'
dying. For a time the old man lived on alone in lodgings*
for he was able to get about in a feeble way, still able to write
for the newspapers. Benjamin went every day to see his
friend and came away sad from watching the battle against
Daily he took newspapers to the sick man and togethef
they read. When Lewis and Clark announced their safe
return from a triumphant passage to the Pacific, Benjamin
36 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
and the old man studied Lewis' letter from St. Louis to the
President When accounts of the expedition began to fill the
papers, the two gloated over every detail of encounters with
Indian tribes and over accounts of unknown rivers and un-
"The land to the Pacific must one day belong to the United
States," Paine said. "You will live to see that day, Benjamin."
One day in August of 1807 Benjamin excitedly carried a
newspaper to his friend.
"He's done it, monsieur. Read it here. Our friend Robert
Fulton. See, his North River steamboat has made its first
real run all the way to Albany up the Hudson/'
Thomas Paine seized the newspaper and read. "So. The
dream comes true. Fulton's steamboats soon will ply up and
down the Ohio and the Mississippi all the way from Pitts-
burgh to New Orleans."
In the summer of 1808 Madame Bonneville talked Paine
into moving to a room at 309 Bleecker Street near her own
rooms so that she could go in to tend him each day. Benjamin
picked hatfuls of the blackberries that tangled the vacant lots
near by and took them to the old man, who sat wrapped in a
long nightgown beside a table cluttered with unread books
By the following year, other strokes had reduced him to
such feebleness that he had to be cared for as if lie were a
child. Madame Bonneville found lodgings large enough for
all at 59 Grove Street and moved the sick man in with her
family. She called a famous doctor and hired a trained nurse,
paying both from her meager earnings. Often the old man sat
unmoving and silent, but there were days when he was lucid
and his active mind shone through tired old eyes.
"I have made my will," he told Benjamin on one such day.
"Half of what I have will go to your father and mother in
BENJAMINBON NEVILLE 37
trust for you boys to pay for your education. You must Lave
"When I am through school, monsieur, where would you
like me to go to college?"
"What do you wish to do with your life?"
Benjamin smiled. "Do you remember, monsieur, when I
told you that I wanted to see all of America so that my think-
ing would be big?"
Thomas Paine nodded.
"That's what I still wish to do. I think I'd like to serve
America in some way, too."
Thomas Paine chuckled, a ghost of his old laugh. "That's
right, Benjamin. Reason long and well. And from that rea-
soning make up your mind. Then never deviate."
The old man lay silent for a time. Benjamin waited,
"There's that new military academy up the Hudson-
West Point," Paine said. "A soldier's life would take you to
the West. First the explorer, then the settler and with the
settler must go the soldier. Yes, West Point is the place for
It was a bright, sunny day in June, 1809, when Thomas
Paine's wasted body was placed in a cheap coffin and hoisted
onto a rude wagon. The Negro driver that Madame Bonne-
ville had hired picked up the reins, and the shabby funeral
left New York's Lower West Side for the farm at New
Rochelle, Madame Bonneville had done her best, but there
was pitifully little money. In the one mourner's carriage,
Benjamin rode with his mother in grief too big for tears.
The Negro driver and his helper dug the grave on the
hillside that Thomas Paine had loved, and they lowered him
into the soil of his own farm.
"He was a great man," Madame Bonneville said. "A great
38 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
intellect. America will one day honor Thomas Paine, al-
though it has no honor for him on this day of his huriaL"
Benjamin knew that he had lost a kind and gentle friend.
He promised himself that he would always remember
Thomas Paine and his wise words.
France was in their quick words f
France was in their veins.
Napoleon, who had made himself the master of Europe,
gradually lost power after his defeat by the British Navy at
Trafalgar. Consequently, a few years after the death of
Thomas Paine, Nicolas de Bonneville was allowed to join
his family in New York. Although poverty and trouble had
left the brilliant scholar ill and old, he was soon earning
money by translating books into French, teaching Latin and
Greek and writing occasional newspaper articles.
When Benjamin was not working at odd jobs to add money
to the scanty Bonneville income, he often accompanied his
father to the Battery. They sat on benches under the trees
and watched the fashionable men and women strolling on the
paths and the light craft moving in and out of the harbor.
And they talked, trying to catch up on all the lost years of
companionship. Together they read translations of the great
Greek tragedies or talked of the French authors Rousseau,
Voltaire, Racine. Sometimes they read from Shakespeare,
their favorite English author.
"But America has good authors, too/' Benjamin said one
day, for he was loyal to his adopted country.
"America is young. But, yes, it has its writers. For reason
and common sense we must read Benjamin Franklin and out
own Tom Paine. And there is that new author Washington
Irving with his Salmagundi, the periodical that your mother
40 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
so enjoys reading. A genial and good-humored man this
Irving must be. I should like to know him. You, Benjamin,
may one day meet this affable man."
These long talks with his gentle father were the incentive
that pushed Benjamin toward greater learning. Years later
he was to credit his father with much of his early education.
But Madame Bonneville had small patience with the two of
them, for although she was talented and educated, she was a
practical woman, impatient with dreamers.
"Go, bring your father home to dinner," she would tell
Benjamin. "You'll find him on the portico of St. Paul's
Church, and of a certainty he will have his nose in a book.
Never does he see the people stare. Never does he know the
hour of a meal."
Benjamin would smile and go look for his father. Then
the two of them would forget themselves in talk talk of
politics, of slavery, of the West, of Benjamin's desire to be-
come a soldier. Sometimes from their combined imaginations
they made up lively tales, forgetting time and Madame Bon-
neville until she came scolding after both of them. When
Benjamin was sixteen, a strong well-made boy with dreaming
black eyes, she began to talk of college.
"I shall write to West Point," she said, "and say that you
need the discipline of mathematics. A daring dreamer, that's
what you are, Benjamin. That dreaminess must be curbed."
"Dreams and daring," Nicolas said, "move the world for-
ward. Let the boy alone, Margaret."
Benjamin entered West Point on his seventeenth birthday.
It was 1813 and the United States was at war with Great
Britain. Since 1805 the British had been capturing American
ships at sea, impressing sailors into virtual captivity and in-
terfering with trade at sea. In 1812 Congress had reluctantly
declared war. Now British armies on land had pushed down
from Canada to capture the outpost of Detroit on the Great
Lakes. Since trained young officers were needed, Benjamin
easily obtained his appointment to West Point,
Not tall, but well set and sturdy, he was handsome in his
cadet uniform of blue. His round hat with its silk cockade
and its yellow eagle perched jauntily on his dark head.
Entering on his duties with determination to make a good
record, he studied hard. But under "Old Pewt," as the cadets
called Acting-Superintendent Alden Partridge, there was
little incentive to serious study. Discipline in those days was
lax and favoritism rampant. But although "Old Pewt" was
not a disciplinarian, he was a good mathematician. Under
him Benjamin learned the engineering that was to be of use
to him many times. His English improved until his French
accent almost entirely disappeared.
He found it difficult, however, to adjust to the crudities
of life at West Point. Cadets sawed and split their own wood
to feed the open fires in their rooms. At mess there were HO
tablecloths and they drank from tin cups. In the classrooms
they sat on hard benches and wrote on slates.
With the other cadets Benjamin wandered off and on the
post at will. He sold his pay vouchers to loan sharks who
haunted the tavern just outside the grounds, and he joined
in the fun of showering officers with missiles thrown from
the barracks windows. But in spite of the pranks, Benjamin
was graduated with a good record in 18 1 5, eight months past
his nineteenth birthday.
Young Lieutenant Bonneville, proud of his dapper blue
army uniform, was bitterly disappointed when his first as-
signment took him to a New England garrison, instead of to
the longed-for frontier outpost in the West. However, four
years later the assignment he had requested was given him.
"It's come," he exulted to his father and mother when he
42 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
visited them on Ids way. "No, not to the Far West. Only to
Mississippi to the construction of a military road there. But
the new state is west enough and wild enough, they tell me."
At Pittsburgh, gateway to the West, the young lieutenant
walked the busy streets, his cap off to let the wind of the West
blow back his long-cut dark hair. With intense interest he
watched every detail of westward-moving life. Keelboats and
flatboats lined the Ohio River. In worn buckskins, trappers
and Indian hunters, faces tanned the color of saddle leather,
strode through the streets. Yankee pedlars, their packs full
of knives, needles and pins, tramped westward. White-topped
pioneer wagons swayed through the streets bound for Illinois
On his long, slow keelboat ride down the wooded Ohio,
Benjamin watched with a warm feeling of homecoming the
dark, mysterious forests that crowded on the banks. He saw
new log cabins in clearings gnawed from the woods by the
axes of frontiersmen. He saw Indians paddling their canoes
on the yellow river or slipping like shadows through the
somber and endless woods.
On the wide, muddy flood of the Mississippi, Benjamin
listened with delight to folk tales and songs of Mike Fink,
the riverman, or of Davy Crockett, the backwoodsman, who
was twenty-four in that year of 1820 and on his way to out-
shining Mike Fink.
For a year Benjamin performed his duties on the construc-
tion of the Jackson Military Road, a shorter route from New
Orleans to Nashville than was the old Natchez Trace, over
which so many settlers had ridden from Tennessee.
Mississippi was a wilderness, and Benjamin exulted in the
strange tropical beauty of the land. North from the Gulf of
Mexico his men cut trees from oak, hickory and gum forests
to make corduroy roads through cypress swamps where the
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 43
black, still waters crept through the canebrake. Here Benja-
min learned that men worked cheerfully under his orders.
Sometimes they built bridges over sluggish rivers, and he
found that the engineering he had learned had given him
skill and resourcefulness. Sometimes the men worked beside
cotton fields where Negroes labored under the hot sun. See-
ing the slaves, Benjamin thought of Thomas Paine and re-
newed the old determination to fight against slavery.
North through the pathless Piney Woods, the young lieu-
tenant forged a way with his company, camping at night
under the longleaf pines with their orange trunks and ten-
inch cones. He saw raccoon and opossum, deer and bear.
He came to know the Indians of the area: Choctaw in the
southern and central portions, Chickasaw in the northern
and eastern. The Choctaw were farmers, tilling patches of
corn, beans and pumpkins, living at peace unless attacked;
but the Chickasaw, squat and savage men, loved war and
the hunt. Benjamin found that he liked Indians. Often he
visited their grass mat lodges to talk with the chiefs while
he watched the women grind corn to meal and the naked
brown children play, wild and free, about the village.
But although he liked this warm and steaming wilderness,
he thought often of the western frontier that he longed to
see. And then, at last, papers ordering his transfer reached
him. He felt a surge of spirit-lifting warmth. He had been
transferred to the Eighth Infantry at Fort Smith, Arkansas,
a frontier outpost on the edge of Osage and Cherokee Indian
'Til at least touch the skirts of the Far West/' he told
There was a keelboat ride up the Arkansas River through
rolling, empty prairie and pleasant woodland, and then he
44 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
was at die fort, reporting to his commanding officer Colonel
The colonel glanced over the papers on his desk. "West
Point. New England. Mississippi. This is your first frontier
"I think I stall like it, sir."
"Not for long. It's a humdrum existence. Drill. Escort duty
for surveyors and government trains. Indians to keep in order.
The insolent Osages raid the Cherokee. The Cherokee make
reprisals. Have to ride out and settle them down."
"Enough to keep us busy, sir."
"Not enough. Men bored. No amusements."
'What do the men do with their spare time, sir?" Benja-
min asked, hoping that he would have time for exploration.
"Read when they can find a book. Hunt. Fish. Gamble.
Drink. We have trouble getting supplies. Improper diet as a
result. Bad water. Sickness. They have colds, rheumatism,
ulcers. Fevers in summer. Fort Smith's a hell hole."
Benjamin soon found that the colonel was right: Fort
Smith was a "hell hole." Established in 1817 to protect the
whites and the Cherokee from the hostile Osage Indians, the
fort had been constructed at the confluence of the Poteau
and the Arkansas rivers. Crude buildings formed two sides
of a square; the river and the impenetrable canebrake pro-
tected the other two sides. Quarters for soldiers and officers
were badly ventilated huts with earthen floors and canvas or
dirt roofs. There were mice and snakes and bedbugs. The
food at mess never varied: beef, pork, bread, coffee, with
only a few vegetable from the eighty acres of farm land
cultivated by the soldiers.
Many of the men spent their days in petty quarreling,
gambling and drinking. But not Benjamin. He gloried in the
fact that he was on the outskirts of the wild America of his
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 45
dreams, and lie found delight in all the varied experiences
of fort life. Eagerly he questioned the tough, long-haired,
bearded trappers or traders who stopped at the fort or at the
Indian trading post on the Verdigris River.
To talk to, there was Captain Nathaniel Pryor, who had
teen sergeant under Lewis and Clark on their journey to the
Pacific. This grizzled captain now lived among the Osage
Indians as a member of their tribe, and Benjamin rode often
to visit him and to draw from him tales of the hostile or
friendly Indians, of the vast mountain ranges and upland
valleys of the West
"Man's mighty puny in that big country," Captain Pryor
said. "Even in company, he rides alone. And he ain't never
sure that he's goin' to be let keep a-ridin'."
"The Oregon country?" Benjamin asked. "What's it like?"
"Rich. Big forests and black soil. And the blamed English
is gittin' 'emselves planted there, sendin' roots deep. Amer-
ica's sleepin' and while she snoozes, the English Hudson's
Bay Company is takin' over. Ought to be ours by right all
"Someday it will," Benjamin said. And in his mind he
determined to have a part in that day.
He had one experience at the fort that was especially
thrilling. One afternoon the sound of a strange mechanical
chugging came around the bend of the Arkansas. Hurrying
to the dock, Benjamin saw a queer-looking boat pushing up
the river without aid of oar or sail. Blue wood smoke belched
from black chimneys. As the boat pulled up to the dock,
towing a keelboat of supplies for the fort, a big paddle wheel
churned the water.
It was the Robert Thompson, first steamboat up the Ar-
kansas. Benjamin remembered Robert Fulton and his proph-
46 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
ecy that had come true. Steamboats had penetrated the
Other exciting times at the fort were provided hy Indian
troubles. The Osages resented the Cherokee, who had been
moved into the area from the east, and they raided the
Cherokee farms below the fort. Angered, the Cherokee made
reprisal attacks. Troops from the fort had to be kept patrolling
the country. Indian troubles increased. An officer, hunting
on the Blue River, was murdered by the Osages. The Indians
openly held war dances on the Verdigris. Orders were re-
ceived to abandon Fort Smith and build a new post Fort
Gibson on the Grand River near the mouth of the Verdigris,
fifty miles from the Osage villages. Benjamin moved with
his men to the new location to begin the building of cabins.
But one morning in the summer of 1824 he received a
message to return at once to Fort Smith headquarters. He
found Colonel Arbuckle examining papers at his desk.
"Lieutenant," the colonel said, "they tell me that your
father and mother were emigres from the anger of Napoleon."
Benjamin was alarmed. He had recently moved his father
and mother into the family quarters at Fort Smith, for they
had been left alone when Thomas entered the United States
Navy. Perhaps the colonel did not wish the elder Bonnevilles
to remain at the fort.
"Yes, sir," Benjamin answered. "In a way that is true/'
"Your father? He knew the Marquis de Lafayette?"
"They were friends in France."
"You speak French well?"
Excitement stirred in Benjamin's mind. This summons
concerned Lafayette. Benjamin wondered if he were to be
sent on some kind of mission to France. But the colonel was
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 47
"Lafayette is to visit America. Did you know that? Hell
be our country's guest/'
And now Benjamin's thoughts whirled, for he could see
where the questions tended.
"This paper" the colonel said pompously. "Suggestion
from the War Department. Want you detached to serve as
an aide to Lafayette. Have to tour all over the country with
him. You'd like that, Lieutenant?"
Would he like it? To meet his father's friend? To see
more of America with Lafayette, the well-remembered gal-
lant officer? To take part in the thrill and ceremony of the
great Frenchman's visit? Benjamin could scarcely find the
breath to stammer out a heartfelt "Yes, sir."
"Your parents? Father's not well, I hear."
"My parents would be pleased. I will move them to the
village outside the fort."
The colonel smiled frostily. "Have to consider your knowl-
edge of French. Have to let you go, it would seem."
In August the ship Cadmus sailed into New York Harbor
bearing the Marquis de Lafayette. Boats put out to meet the
ship, and in one of the boats was Benjamin, dressed in his
most resplendent uniform of white trousers and dark blue
coat with gold epaulets, sword at his side, a high plumed
shako on his head. He was trying to remember the handsome
French officer who had visited the house in Paris. But it was
an old man who stood at the rail of the Cadmus with tears of
deep emotion running down his face.
When the important officials had greeted Lafayette, Ben-
jamin watched for a chance to bow before the great man.
"Sir," he said, "I am Benjamin Bonneville, son of Nicolas.
I have been detached from military duty to serve as one of
"Ah, Benjamin/' the old man said. "Son of my good
Benjamin was embarrassed when Lafayette embraced him
in the French manner with a kiss on either cheek. The young
man looked around quickly to see if his brother officers had
noted the greeting, and the old man's eyes twinkled.
"I remember/' he said, "a small boy with large, eager black
eyes who listened while Monsieur Paine and I talked of
America/' He studied the sturdy young officer, noting with
approval the high, intelligent forehead, the frank gaze, the
trim uniform. "And now you are a soldier for the country
that has given you shelter. And Monsieur Paine? He has left
his world of grief?"
"We buried him with honor in our hearts, sir/'
"America has lost a noble mind. And the good Nicolas?
And your mother?"
"They are well"
Talk was brief, for Lafayette, as America's guest, had
ceremonial duties. He turned away to the high-ranking of-
ficials with a parting, "I shall see you often, my Benjamin."
The next day the nation's guest was conducted aboard the
Chancellor Livingston while the guns of Fort Lafayette
boomed across the water and the West Point band played
"See the Conquering Hero Comes." Benjamin followed, his
heart feeling big in his chest Aboard the Chancellor were
officers of the Army, Navy and Marines. Old veterans of
the Revolutionary War were there to honor the man who had
fought with them for the freedom of America. Lafayette wept
as he embraced them; and Benjamin, watching, felt tears
come to his own eyes and was not ashamed.
At the Battery, when they landed, crowds cheered and
waved. The guns of fort and warships boomed as Lafayette
limped between long lines of militia. An open carriage drawn
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 49
by four white Korses awaited him, and the procession moved
up Broadway with flags fluttering everywhere, guns and
So began the long triumphal march through America that
Benjamin was to remember always. Everywhere they went,
guns saluted and bands blared. By night the torches of escort-
ing horsemen lit the parade with red glare, bonfires bloomed
on the heights and bugles rang out a people's welcome. And
at Washington City, the raw new capital of the nation,
President Monroe received Lafayette with a simple dignity
that made Benjamin proud of his country.
One Sunday afternoon in October, Lafayette visited the
tomb of George Washington. Down the Potomac the boat
moved slowly while the guns of Fort Wyoming boomed in
solemnity and the band played a dirge. Benjamin watched as
Lafayette walked through the gates unattended. When he
came out, tears rolled unchecked down the lined face.
"I pay a silent homage/' he said, "to the tomb of the
greatest and best of men, my paternal friend."
Under a gray November sky, the leafless trees whipping
in fall wind, Benjamin rode with the escort beside Lafayette's
carriage to witness the meeting of two old men who both
had served America. Thomas Jefferson, tall and lean, stooped
and silver haired with the burden of his eighty-one years,
stood waiting between the white columns of the portico of
Monticello. Lafayette stepped out of the carriage.
"Ah, Jefferson," he said.
"Ah, Lafayette," Thomas Jefferson answered.
One tottered and one limped, but the two old men ran
toward each other to embrace and weep.
Benjamin could scarcely see through his own tears, and
he knew that the four hundred men in the escort with him
all had dim eyes.
50 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
After a late fall and early winter in Washington City, the
triumphal march began again. They rode south this time, by
carriage, over four thousand miles of bad roads, in sun and
"I am weary/' Lafayette told Benjamin one day. "All this
is hard on an old man. I think I am homesick for France.
You, Benjamin, once a son of France, can understand/'
"I love America," Benjamin said, "but I, too, should like
to see France once more/'
From New Orleans they sailed up the Mississippi, rolling
wide and muddy in spring spate, to St. Louis, a town with a
population of six thousand. The town, Benjamin knew,
thrived on the fur trade of the Far West. Weary of ceremony,
he slipped away to explore the docks of the Missouri. There
he talked to traders and trappers gathering for the long spring
trek to the West.
"Took me a year off," one old trapper said. "Thought I
wanted a little fooforaw fixin's. But I'm goin back first boat
up the Missouri/'
"Why?" Benjamin asked.
"Hard to tell, young feller, so's ye'd understand. No man
kin know who ain't seen thet country. A man's free out thar
free like he's never been afore. They's grass bendin' in the
wind, and buffler grazin'. They's mountains and lakes and
rivers, and like's not no white man's been thar afore ye. Gits
into the blood of a man as likes his freedom."
Freedom like that would "git into his blood/' too, Ben-
jamin told himself. With a lift of curious excitement, te
watched a keelboat being launched, listened to the shouts of
the French boatmen as they pushed the craft out into the
currents with sturdy ash poles. Along the shore other men
tugged and strained at a long rope fastened to the prow. The
east wind freshened and a large square sail bloomed white
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 51
from the mast. Then men cheered and rested on their poles,
waving back to the docks. The hoat turned a tend in the
river and was lost in the West of free life,
Benjamin's mind was busy as he watched. He thought
about the land to the west that should be America's. With
all his heart he wanted to see that wild country. Soldiering
would not take him beyond the Rockies for many years, not
until the land belonged to the United States. But explora-
tion? Would not exploration encourage settlers to move in
and make the land American more rapidly? In his mind a
plan was born. Perhaps he could get leave from the Army
to explore to the Pacific. Would not a trained soldier's knowl-
edge of strategic points for forts and supply routes be valuable
if America had to fight Great Britain for the Oregon country?
Could he not lead a fur company into the West, using the
expedition as a cover for his activities?
Benjamin laughed at himself then. He wasn't old enough
or experienced enough to lead any kind of expedition. His
idea was folly, but nevertheless he stored the plan in the
back of his mind. When his assignment with Lafayette was
over, he would think about the plan again.
Back once more in Washington City, Lafayette called
Benjamin to him.
"I have a letter from your mother," the marquis said. "She
would like to have you accompany me to France. Would you
care to go as my secretary, perhaps?"
Benjamin was pleased and complimented at the sugges-
tion, but he thought longingly of his desire to explore in the
West. However, exploration could wait, he told himself. He
was young. And it would be a pleasure to see France again.
"Yes, sir," he said. "I should be happy to accompany you."
"Very well. Ask for official leave, and I will ask your
President Adams to permit you to travel with me."
52 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Leave was granted; and in October of 1825, Benjamin
sailed with Lafayette on the frigate Brandywine, which had
been assigned to bear home the nation's guest.
Benjamin was glad to see France again. He rode with
Lafayette over the broad acres of the marquis' country home,
yellow-walled La Grange, He sympathized with the old man
when the news came that Thomas Jefferson and John
Adams both had died on the Fourth of July, just fifty years
after they had signed the Declaration of Independence.
'We go, the old ones," Lafayette said. "The young must
take our places in the battle for the freedom of nations."
On rainy days Benjamin helped Lafayette arrange his
shipload of gifts brought back from America. As Benjamin
handled the symbols of a wild America Indian bows and
arrows, war clubs, tomahawks, headdresses, stuffed animals
and birds France suddenly seemed to him old and weary.
He longed for the fresh newness of America.
He looked into the mirror and noted that his hair was
receding from his forehead in early baldness that made him
look older. If he raised a mustache he would look old enough
now to lead a fur expedition. He must return to America.
"I must go home," he told Lafayette. "I have a dream and
A dozen times and only one refrain,
"We don't know where we're going, but we're on our way."
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
Benjamin sailed for New York early in August. On
landing he was gratified to learn from an official letter that
he had heen promoted to a captaincy. In November he was
back at Fort Gibson.
Life in the outpost was dull for Captain Bonneville after
the excitement of traveling. During his absence his mother
and father had moved to St. Louis, and he felt lonely and
discontented. In his boredom he turned more and more to
his bold dream of exploring the West.
One day he rode to the Grand River to consult the old
trapper Auguste Choteau, who had made a fortune in the
early fur trade and now lived like a feudal lord in his white-
washed log house with his Indian wife Rosalie and their
swarm of half-breed children,
"Come in, Captain, come in/' Old Choteau shouted from
the room set aside for his guns, rifles and traps. He roared out
orders to his Negro and Indian servants to roast a haunch of
venison at the open pit in the yard, for Choteau was always
hospitable. A visit to him meant a feast of venison, fricasseed
wild turkey, roast beef, wild honey, cake and white bread-
luxuries Benjamin missed at the fort mess.
He confided to the old man his desire to explore the West,
carefully omitting his plan to investigate for the Army, but
stressing his wish to venture into the fur trade.
"Of a certainty/' the old man said, "if you wish to go, then
go. The Far West, it is the place for a young man of daring/'
He shook his old head sadly. "But beaver don't bring much
"There's still money in trapping/' the captain said. Then
he added, his black eyes clouding to softness with his dream,
"Besides, money isn't what I'd be seeking. I have little use
for a fortune. I want to see lands where no white man has
been before me. Tell me what I would need for a trip to the
Old Choteau looked at the young captain keenly for a
long minute before he nodded his head in approval.
"I can see you have courage and daring, Captain, and
determination goods no man can buy. But you must have
money to buy traps and food, mules and horses, trading goods
for the Injuns. To outfit a trapping party that takes much
Riding back to the fort, Captain Bonneville felt the damp
of discouragement on his spirits. Courage and daring he
knew he had, but his determination staggered as he calcu-
lated the capital he would need. He could never save such
a sum from his officer's pay. But he was naturally cheerful,
and his resourcefulness was always the most active under
dilemma. When a man was determined, he told himself, he
found a way over the highest hill. Perhaps there would be
men in the East willing to finance a fur venture for the
wealth the furs might bring. Since he had no money of his
own, he must find financial support,
As he rode nearer to Fort Gibson, under the shade of the
massive oak and pecan trees that towered above his head,
he was deep in thought. Reason and logical thinking he had
learned from Thomas Paine, and reason and logic now told
Benjamin that he had a need other than capital, a need that
tad not been on Old Choteau's list.
A man who plans to lead other men on a dangerous trip,
he thought, must have experience if those men are to re-
In the years that followed, the captain set himself to the
gaining of that needed experience. With his men he camped
near the lonely canebrake and delighted in the hardship as
preparation for his venture. From the blacksmith at the trad-
ing post on the Verdigris, he learned to shoe horses and mend
wagon wheels. He talked to trappers until he learned the
habits of beavers; questioned the traders who came up the
Arkansas about the tricks of trading with the Indians. He
learned that the Indians would give up their furs for twists
of tobacco, pipes, knives and axes. For vermilion with which
to paint their bodies, for beads with which to deck their
wives, they would surrender food golden bear oil, elk meat
But since he must also understand Indian ways of think-
ing, the captain volunteered for services in settling Indian
troubles, familiarizing himself with the customs of the various
tribes that lived near by.
In 1827, when a new tribe arrived to settle in Arkansas
Territory, the captain was there to greet them. Seven hun-
dred and eighty Creeks came up the river, towed in keel-
boats by the steamer Felicity. Like the Cherokee, the squat
Creek Indians were hunters and farmers. Dressed in calico
shirts of bright colors, hair bound to their heads by gaudy
handkerchiefs, they were dignified in their grief over leaving
their homes in Georgia. The young captain felt sorry for the
Creeks and did all he could to make them comfortable on the
farming land allotted to them by the government. He visited
their fires, hunted with them on the rivers, where the ducks
56 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
and pigeons rose in clouds at the first shot of a rifle. And he
learned that although each trite had differing customs, all
Indians wanted the same cheap trade goods.
When he felt that he had the knowledge and the ex-
perience for his western venture, Captain Bonneville applied
for an eight months' leave of absence and traveled to New
York to make the necessary arrangements. Since his task was
to convince the War Department of the feasibility of his plan,
he went first to the commanding general of the Army. Gen-
eral MacComb was affable, but he shook his head over the
"We want no war with Great Britain over the Oregon
country/' the general said. "If England learned that we were
sending an army man to investigate the West, trouble would
come of it."
"Trouble may come anyway," the captain argued. "The
Oregon country is rich in furs"
"But we can get furs. Our treaty with England allows both
countries to trap in the no man's land beyond the Rockies."
"I know that, sir. But Oregon has other resourcesplenti-
ful timber and rich farming soil. America will one day wish
to extend her borders to the Pacific. We need the Oregon
country. Great Britain wants it also, and she may decide to
fight for it Would it not be wise, sir, to be prepared? Wise
to know what Indian tribes inhabit the various areas? Wise to
know what supply routes we could use in case of war with
The general shook his head, but Benjamin was not to be
stopped in his argument. He pointed out the growing power
of the English Hudson's Bay Fur Company, the need for
American settlers beyond the Rockies to hold the land for
the United States; He told of his experience with Indian
tribes, offering proof of his skill in handling them. He sug-
BENJAMIN BONNE V I LLE 57
gested that a fur expedition would make excellent cover for
his investigative activities.
The general still was doubtful, but he promised to take the
matter to the War Department. Fuming at the passing of the
valuable summer months, Benjamin waited until August be-
fore he was called again to an interview with the general.
Outside the office door, Benjamin tried to calm the too-
rapid beating of his heart. He had been a fool to hope, he
told himself. If the War Department had refused his plan,
he would have to give up his dream, go back to Fort Gibson
and spend his years going from one assignment to another.
Well, after all, he told himself, the Army was his life. He
squared his shoulders and went in.
Half expecting to be refused, he felt a surge of almost
uncontainable joy when the general told him that the War
Department had approved his plan. He had been granted a
furlough, to begin at once and to extend until October, 1833,
two full years. He was to explore the country between the
settlements of the United States and whatever point he might
be able to reach in the West. He was to collect information
concerning the various Indian tribes on his route, their num-
bers, manners and customs; and he was to report to the War
Department the geography and geology of the country
through which he passed.
"You understand, Captain/' the general said, "that no ex-
pense is to incur to the Army. You must finance your expedi-
Joyfully the captain set about procuring financial backing.
He found that there were many wealthy men in New York
eager to invest in the profitable fur trade. Had not John Jacob
Astor made a fortune in it? And was he not still making
money in furs, although his trading post of Astoria had been
58 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
surrendered to the British? Might not a man with money
lying idle by similar investment also win a fortune"?
An old West Point friend introduced the captain to Alfred
Seton, who had been associated in his youth with the fur
trade at Astoria, Seton listened with interest to Benjamin's
"I will help you," Seton said. "We must form an associa-
tion to raise the necessary capital One day the American flag
will again fly over Astoria. I hope so, I believe it. Who knows
perhaps you may help to place it there?"
The association was formed, the money provided. With
credit in his pocket, Captain Bonneville set off down the
rivers for St. Louis. With every turn of the steamer's paddle
wheel, his dream was moving toward realization. Impatiently
he watched the western shore of the Mississippi, eager to be
off into the wild country beyond. Often during the trip down
the river Benjamin wished that his gentle father could have
lived to share his happiness, but Nicolas had died during the
years of his son's preparation. And now there was much work
to do before the expedition could start. There would be time,
for he could not set out over the prairies until spring. He
must first see that his mother was comfortable in her St. Louis
home and that she would be provided for during his absence.
He must buy supplies and trade goods. He must recruit men
for his venture.
St. Louis was the teeming hub of the fur trade in 1831,
as it had been since the twenties. Spokes of communication
ran by riverway, turnpike and trail east to Pittsburgh and
New York, north to the Great Lakes, south to New Orleans
and the ships in the Gulf of Mexico, westward to the Rockies
and beyond. On the cobbled or muddy or dusty streets of St.
Louis swaggered the hardy mountain men to mix with the
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 59
French aristocracy of the town, families that had piled up
fortunes in the fur trade.
St. Louis was the place, Captain Bonneville decided, to
recruit a hundred men for his party. Here on the gray
wharves swarmed bearded trappers, returned from the upper
Missouri fur country. Here stalked Indians skilled in the
lore of forest and mountain and desert. Here strutted the
tough mountain men who knew the long land trails to the
The captain bought buckskin clothing for himself and a
wide-brimmed felt hat. He found a shack on a narrow,
crooked street near the wharves under the shadow of the
huge stinking warehouses where the furs of the great com-
panies were stored. He put up a card; then he put on his hat
and sat down to wait. Almost completely bald now, he de-
cided that no recruit should see his shiny head. No young
man should refuse the trip for thinking that he signed with
an old man. The captain was only thirty-six, but he knew
that his early baldness made him look older. As he waited
for recruits to come, he smiled to himself, remembering that
he once had worried because he looked too young. He looked
old enough now; he was experienced and ready for his men.
They came the sturdy men. Some were tough skinned,
bronzed by wind and sun, grizzled in beard and old in ex-
perience. Some were young, with eyes full of dreams, eyes
eager with desire for adventure. But old or young, each had
one aim: he didn't care where he went or how much money
he could make on the way. Each man "jest wanted to go."
"It will be two long years/' Captain Bonneville warned
each man. "There will be hardship. Starvation, perhaps.
Certainly heat and cold and work/'
"Starvin' times, freezin' times, sweatin' times/' the old
trapper said, "it's all one to this old hoss. I'll sign."
"Jest hand me that there quill/' a young man said. "I aim
Gloating over the addition of each man to his rolls, the
captain signed on the hardy volunteers. There were Creoles
from St. Louis, volatile and laughing, quick and wiry; lanky
Kentuckians and Tennesseans, shifting tobacco quids from
one lean cheek to the other and spitting with dexterity; Mis-
sourians, slow moving but tough muscled.
And one day Captain Bonneville looked up to see a sandy-
haired, red-bearded man in whose blue eyes was bright ex-
citement and in whose speech was the lilt of Ireland.
" 'Tis not the lie I'd be giving you, Captain/' he said. "It's
green I am what these Frenchies call mangeur d'lard, a pork
eater. But let it be pork or stew you're wantin', 'tis me, Tom
Cain, can cook it. I've cooked my way all down the Ohio
and the Mississippi."
The captain, liking the honest Irishman, smiled and signed
on a cook.
Michel Cerre came, dapper and dandified in town cloth-
ing, for St. Louis was the home of the aristocratic French
Cerres. Young, fair and slight, Michel already was an ex-
perienced trader who had traveled the Santa Fe Trail and
ridden the keelboats to the upper Missouri.
"To have you with me, Mr. Cerr6," the captain said, "will
be a pleasure. You have the experience to act as one of my
partisans. Will you so do?"
"I shall be delighted," young Cerre answered, liking this
quiet, assured army man with his soft speech and gentle
The captain exulted as Cerre signed, bowed and left the
shack. To find a partisan both experienced and cultured was
a stroke of luck; the Cerre name would be respected by the
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 61
The word "partisan" was a new one to the captain, who
still thought in terms of army rank. A partisan, he mused,
was rather like a lieutenant working under a captain. Give
him your orders, and he would see that the men carried them
out. In the fur business a partisan often was entrusted for
months at a time with a brigade of trappers sent out to work
distant heaver grounds. Michel Cerre would make a good
Another leader came to sign before that day was over.
Captain Bonneville knew men; and the minute this one
walked in and motioned without a word toward the paper
on the table, the army man knew that here was a leader.
In his early thirties, the captain thought. And tough as
hickory, hard and strong as the wood of ash.
Joseph Reddeford Walker, the man signed.
"Plain Joe Walker," he said.
"Needless to ask if you have experience at trapping and
trading/' the captain remarked, smiling as he studied the
worn buckskin, the trappers' soft hat above the curling,
shoulder-length brown hair. He observed that Joe carried
his rifle in loose but sure grip, not putting it down even when
"Brung up on the Tennessee border/' Walker said in spare
speech, tinged with the wedded drawls of Tennessee and
Missouri. "Santa Fe Trail with Cap Becknell in 1821 first
trip in. Huntin' and trappin' and tradin' in Missouri since.
Sheriff of Jackson County here fer a spell/'
"Tell me what it's like/' Bonneville said, "that south-
There was an answering glimmer in Joe's light brown
eyes. He looked straight into the captain's black ones. Then
Joe shook his head because he had no words to describe a
land that had enchanted him.
"Gits into your blood that's all. I aim to go back some-
"Stay with me, Joe/' the captain said, "and perhaps that
day may be soon. I have often thought there must be a
shorter way through the desert to California/'
And when Joe said, "If there is, I reckon I'd like to find
it/' the captain knew he had discovered not only a leader, but
a companion with a kindred dream of seeing new wild
"Horse?" Joe asked, "Or mule?"
"Either, if you have your own. If not, I'll provide. But
we'll be taking wagons to carry our goods. Four mules or
horses to a wagon. Some oxen/'
"Wagons. What's wrong with that?"
"Pack animals is better. You can't git wagons over the
gullies, or acrost streams, or up over the mountains."
"We will use the wagons. Much of our travel will be over
rugged wilderness, I know; but there are miles of open plains
where wagons will speed our going."
"How far you aimin' to git 'em?"
"Over the Rockies at least. You see, Joe, I believe that
someday settlers will follow in our tracks. And when they
do, wagons will have to cross the divide. I intend to prove
that they can."
Joe Walker shook his head. "Fur country's for trappers
and Injuns. Wheels ain't goin' to roll out there."
"You think it can't be done?"
"Won't say it can't. Work gits done when it's got to. But
Bill Sublette, he snaked wagons to the foot of the Rockies
two years ago and he ain't aimin' to try it again."
"We'll snake our wagons over the Rockies."
Joe Walker laughed. "Wagons over them mountains,
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 63
Cap'n? Nope. I reckon you won't be spoilin' no fur country.
The humps of the Rockies is goin' to see to that/'
Captain Bonneville set his jaw in determination. He re-
membered advice that Thomas Paine so often had given:
"Reason well. Make up your mind from that reasoning. Then
'Til get wagons over the divide if it's humanly possible,"
the captain said.
Walker's dark brows drew down to make deep wrinkles
above his long hooked nose. Then he grinned suddenly.
"Reckon you're a greenhorn, Cap'n," he said, "but one
with the ole grit in you. Til help you git 'em over."
By the end of April Captain Bonneville, with the aid of
Walker and Cerre, had recruited one hundred and ten men.
The two leaders had found a band of Delaware Indians
eager to serve.
"Them Delawares," Joe said, "is good hunters and guides.
Only honest Injuns I know."
Fort Osage, about one; hundred and fifty miles west on the
Missouri, had been named as a starting point. Equipment
and supplies for two years had been bought and stored in
the wagons, and Cerre and Walker had ridden ahead to Fort
Osage to meet the men.
On the night before he left St. Louis, Captain Bonneville
was assailed by the misgivings that often precede a new ven-
"I'm going out into that savage country I've dreamed
about," he told his mother, "dreamed about ever since I came
to America. But I'm not going alone. Over a hundred good
men ride with me. That's what frightens me knowing that
I'm responsible for all those lives."
64 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Madame Bonneville, who did not want her son to go, had
the bravery to give him strength.
"You have always had foresight and caution and courage,
Benjamin/' she said. "Now you will have to live with those
"God willing/' the captain replied, "111 bring every man
I say the ways are of en . * .
Open for the rolling wagons and strong teams.
For the slow rolling of the Conestoga carts
Creaking like fate across the prairie days.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
It was dawn of May Day, 1832. Just beyond Fort Osage
the huge Bonneville camp slumbered In gray light. Ghostly
wagons awaited the horses and oxen and mules now grazing
quietly under the sleepy eyes of the guard. Blanketed humps
dotting the prairie were men deep in morning slumber. But
Captain Bonneville, alive with a heady eagerness for the first
day's start, had been up since the dusk of dawn.
"Level Level" shouted the guard. "All out. Git up and hit
Saddling his horse, the captain mounted to watch his
sprawling camp surge into lively and organized activity. He
had seen many an army camp come to life, but this watching
was different. This camp was his own, to manage and con-
trol, to keep from danger through two long years in wild,
savage country. Solemnly renewing his determination to
bring every man safely back, he watched with pride as the
campfires flamed into new life and the men stumbled sleepily
from their blankets. Soon the good smell from the bubbling
breakfast kettles filled the cool, sweet prairie air. Breakfast
over, horses were caught and saddled, braying mules and
stubborn oxen yoked to the wagons.
"No pack mules to load, Joe/' the captain remarked. "Our
goods remain stowed in the wagons/'
Joe grinned. "I reckon ye're right, Cap'n. We save time
on the start now. But wait till the goin' gits rough. Comes
time we got to snake them pesky wagons up and down the
gullies, then yell see pack mules is best/'
"A-a-all set/' the men shouted.
Turning to look back, Bonneville was gratified to see that
his train was arranged in the military fashion he had ordered.
Behind him twenty wagons rolled in two columns. The
trappers, divided into two sections, rode at front and rear.
Some of his stoutest men remained far behind to form a rear
guard; others galloped ahead to form a van guard.
All of his stalwart men were rowdy with glee to be riding
at last toward a free and adventuresome life. They shouted
and yelped like savage Indians, and indeed they looked much
like Indians to the captain. Dressed in fringed buckskins,
some old, some new, the men had decked their outfits with
trinkets and feathers and bright scarves. Some wore their
hair long in trapper fashion; other had started the ride with
the haircuts of civilization. The captain fingered his own two
days' growth of whiskers and grinned to himself. If he
couldn't grow hair on his head, he could at least raise a
Seeing the hilarity of his men, the captain felt his own
spirits soar to matching height. He laughed at the crude jokes
the trappers played on each other, enjoyed their boisterous
shouts and joined in their laughter and song.
Malbiouk s'en va t'en guerre
Mironton, mironton, mirontaine,
Malbrouk s'en va t'en guerre,
Ne salt quand reviendra.
So sang the lighthearted French Creoles of the party
"Malbrouk has gone to war, knows not when he'll return."
And the brawny Americans drowned out the French song
with raucous bawling of "Yankee Doodle."
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 67
The way was pleasant those first few days. The morning
sun shone warm on the backs of westering travelers. Long
prairie grasses bent before the spring breeze. There were
streams and patches of woodland scrub oak and sycamore
and blossoming hawthorn. There were no hostile Indians
and the evening fires were pleasant and safe.
But six days out they passed the last lone frontier cabin,
the last barn with hay for sleeping. The, cold rains began
and the prairies became ups and downs of black and sticky
mud. Horses floundered in muck to their fetlocks and wagon
wheels had to be pried out and lifted ahead. The spirits of
the men sank with the wagon wheels, and Joe Walker wore
a smug smile each time a wagon had to be snaked from the
sucking mud. But the captain, undisturbed, put his shoulders
to the wagon boxes to help his men. At night he slept,
miserably, in his wet blankets, but he rose each morning with
cheerfulness undamped. The wagons rolled. And to keep
them rolling he would endure any labor or discomfort.
When they reached the Kansas River it was in spring
flood. Undismayed, Bonneville set his men to building rafts
to ferry the heavily laden wagons across the muddy waters.
Westward and northward he led his men until their trail
joined the more traveled one along the Platte River the
Nebraska to the trappers.
There were quicksands under the shallow water, and
mules and oxen bellowed, sensing and refusing the treacher-
The wagons now meant day-long tug and lift and shove.
Smaller than the great white-topped Conestogas that were to
roll over this same trail, the sturdy military wagons seemed
possessed of a stubborn and willful life of their own. The
high, dry air of the upland prairie shrank hubs and spokes
and rims. Wagon boxes fell to pieces. Tires came off. Captain
68 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Bonneville was everywhere along the line to suggest repairs,
to help with the labor. He knew that the trappers grinned at
each other behind his back and cursed when he was out of
hearing, but he was not to be stopped by ridicule or criticism.
"It isn't stubbornness that primes my determination/' he
told Joe. "One of the big aims of this trip is to prove to settlers
that wagons can cross the Rockies/*
"You mean you're still aimin' to git them wagons over the
"I'll get them over/' the captain said, setting his lips firmly,
"if I have to carry them myself/'
No matter how many corduroy roads had to be built over
wet spots, how many stops had to be made for repairs, how
many times wagons had to be lowered down the steep sides
of gullies with ropes, the captain remained cheerful. The
wagons still rolled.
They were in Indian country now. Mindful of the promise
he had made to himself that every man should return safely
to the East, he saw to it that the wagons were arranged in the
form of a square each night. At the start the men had been
divided into messes, each with a cook and a campfire. Now
the wagons were spaced thirty-five feet apart, and the mess
fires were built in the spaces. In the enclosure the men slept.
After an hour allowed for grass and water, horses and mules
were driven inside the enclosure and carefully hobbled.
Small roving bands of Indians would not be likely to attack
a train so large, but they delighted in stealing horses and
In mid-June the wagons jolted to the forks of the Platte.
Bonneville stood at the forks, knowing that he was on the
boundary of the United States. The north branch of the river
led to the Rockies, to the valley of the Seedskeedee, and on
over the mountains to Pierre's Hole, where trappers were
holding their summer rendezvous that year. He drew in a
deep breath of the winy air and felt his body lift to meet the
exhilaration of his spirit.
"We follow the north fork," he told his men. But he
thought: How useless are words to tell a man's feelings!
But they were on the south bank of the Platte, and there
seemed no way to ford the swift current. For two days the
captain kept his men following the south branch until he
could find a likely crossing place. Giving the orders for en-
campment, he studied the boiling waters. Joe Walker was
looking smug again, as if he thanked the river for stopping
the wagons. But Captain Bonneville had no intention of
letting a river defeat him. The wagons must cross.
"Take the wheels off/' he ordered. "Cover the wagon boxes
with hides. We'll turn our wagons into rafts and pull them
"They'll leak, Captain," Michel Cerr6 objected. "Better
leave the wagons here. We can load the mules and swim
"No," he persisted. "Calk all cracks with tallow and ashes.
The wagons will hold long enough to cross that much water."
The crude boats rode the stream, three men in each, while
others waded across and pushed the rafts in front of them.
The captain was jubilant. His wagons were now on the
north fork of the Platte, and high rolling prairie lay ahead
"Buffler country," Joe Walker said. "Look."
Captain Bonneville gazed down in awe from a hill. There
they were, hundreds of the shaggy beasts, grazing on the long
grass of a valley. A strange, almost inhuman excitement
seized him. He calmed his feelings by telling himself that
this excitement was only the primitive emotion of man faced
with a thrilling hunt.
70 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
"Meat a-runnin' thar," the gleeful trappers said, tightening
their saddle girths and looking to the priming of their rifles.
"Kin we chase 'em, Cap'n?"
"Chase away/' he shouted, and found himself preparing
to join the hunt.
Circling to come in against the wind, the hunters rode
slowly toward the herd. Sudden movement would set the
buffalo running. Half a mile away the bulls caught man-
scent. They bellowed warning and the herd broke into a run.
With his men right behind him, Captain Bonneville spurred
his horse into a gallop to begin the chase that was the most
thrilling of prairie adventures.
The captain was astounded by his own feelings. A calm
man by nature, he was now gripped by the madness of the
chase. Shouting and yelling like his men, his heart pounding,
he dug spurs into his horse's flanks and galloped into the
cloud of dust flung up by the rumbling hoofs of the herd.
Dust choked his throat and filled his eyes. The angry bellow-
ing of the bulls and the thunder of the moving herd deafened
him. Picking a target, he fired his rifle but was swept on
through the murk without knowing whether his shot had
struck. Yelling like a madman, he used his pistols, although
he knew well enough that shot from them would do little
harm to tough hides.
Not until his horse stumbled and regained footing did the
mad delirium of the chase leave him. He looked around then.
Dust was settling over the still forms of buffalo scattered on
the plain. His men still galloped ahead in pursuit of the
fleeing herd. His horse was wet with sweat and blowing
hard. The captain drew a deep breath and grinned at his
own folly. But he knew he d join in the next hunt. The thrill
of the chase was too exciting to miss.
That night the trappers held their first buffalo feast. Over
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 71
the fire ribs roasted, in the big iron kettles boiled hump and
boss, and from the ramrods of guns liver toasted over the
Captain Bonneville stuffed himself on the juicy buffalo
meat, and satisfied, sat leaning against a box to look at his
men grouped around their mess fires. Many were lying
down too full to move. They were a rough-looking crew
now after almost two months on the trail. The captain smiled
and glanced down at his own greasy, smoke-stained buck-
skins. He stroked his dark beard and thought of the dapper
army captain who had ridden out from St. Louis. But he did
not long for that old neatness. He loved this free life and was
glad that he could not be distinguished from his men.
"Ain't no meat like buffler," sighed one old trapper, the
meat juices running red down his grizzled beard. "A feller
can eat and eat on prime buffler like this and never git sick."
Tom Cain, the cook, looked wistful. 'It's little peace youVe
been giving me this night. Cook, cook, cook. Roast this bit.
Boil that. 'Tis enough to drive a man fey! Nixt time we meet
up with buffalo, 'tis Tom Cain thatll be forking his horse
and riding after the beasties. Sure, and even a cook has need
"The next time there's a chase, Tom," the captain prom-
ised, "you shall ride with us. 'Tis true that every man has
need of fun."
On they rode through a country naked and sandy and
barren under a burning blue sky. Benjamin felt the utter
silence of this monotonous land and rejoiced when they came
one night to a small grove along a stream just at sunset. The
red rays of the low sun touched the tips of the trees, and from
them birds sang their evening song.
"Birds," the captain said to Cerre. "The first we've heard
for a long, long time."
72 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
He lay long awake that night with the soft twittering of
night birds sweet to his ears. He was unmindful of the swarm-
ing mosquitoes and buffalo gnats that buzzed and stung.
Even the snores of his men the scratchy sound they made as
they turned in the gravel to rest sore muscles, and the shrill
cry of a coyote from the hills could not spoil the sense of
well-being that his camp at night gave him.
They were entering the country of the Crows now, and the
captain issued orders for caution by day and by night. One
day scouts came riding back shouting, "Indians! Indians!
Crow Indians painted for war! A big party !"
"It's time," the captain said. "We've been lucky so far.
Only small bands of thieving Indians. Prepare for attack!"
Wagons were hastily drawn into a square. Quickly and
efficiently the men took their places. Rifles ready, they waited.
Down from the hills galloped the painted and bedecked
Crows, bronze bodies bare, bronze legs naked above knee-
length moccasins. Whooping their harsh cries, they parted
to race down either side of the wagons.
"Shucks, they don't mean war, Cap'n," one old trapper
said. "Them Crows is jest showin' off how they kin ride/'
Captain Bonneville, who preferred to be mighty sure of
the friendly intentions of the Indians, kept his hand on his
rifle in readiness. But the Crow chief circled and wheeled his
horse into position to shake hands with the white chief. The
pipe of peace was smoked over the campfire. Then the Crow
braves walked around and around the strange wagons, ex-
amining them in childlike curiosity. The one cow and its
calf still following the wagon train entranced the red men.
They tried to goad the calf to anger as if it had been a buffalo.
"It is the white chiefs strong medicine/' they said.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 73
"I will trade you the calf for one of your fine horses," the
captain offered in sign language.
The Crows shook their heads and tacked away con-
temptuously. If the white chief was willing to trade the calf,
it had no value as medicine. They were extremely friendly,
insisting on embracing their white brothers and speaking sly
words of companionship. But when the band veered off to
continue war against another tribe, the trappers found that
the affection of the Indians had not been aimless.
"Them thievin' red devils!" one trapper said. "Huggin' me
so's they could cut the buttons right off my coat/'
"My huntin' knife is gone/' another complained.
" 'Tis my best frying pan has walked off with the rascals/'
Tom Cain wailed.
The captain had been told that the Crows were a preda-
tory and crafty tribe, always making trouble on the plains for
trappers. They delighted in stealing anything they could get
their hands on. He laughed at the chagrin of his men.
"Hang on to your belongings when Crows are around/ 1
he said. "It's Crow honor to steal from white man or red."
At Red Buttes the trappers left the Platte behind them and
toiled on and up through the hills to the Sweetwater River,
so named, not because its water was sweet and clear, but
because some nameless trapper once had lost his portion of
sugar in the river.
They detoured around the narrow canyon of Devil's Gate.
And now from a high ridge Benjamin Bonneville saw the
Rockies. There had been mountains before, dimly glimpsed.
But here the high Wind River Range rose far away, but
sharp and clear, pale blue in the sun. The snow-capped
crowns gleamed pure and aloof . From the springs and snows
of those vast peaks, mighty rivers were born, rivers that
74 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
flowed both east and west. Wordless, the captain gazed. This
was his dream. But these mountains were beyond dream.
"Them's the Winds, Cap n/' Joe said, grinning. "You still
aimin' to git them wagons over?"
"The wagons will cross," the captain said.
His keen eyes already had seen a saddle in the mountains.
He led his train toward the gap to find a rolling plain, twenty
miles of sagebrush. Here the hills were low and rounded. It
was the pass used by trappers since 1826 the famous South
Pass over which the emigrant trains were later to roll. Before
this no wagons had ever crossed these heights.
The wagons did cross, but only because of Captain Bon-
neville's determined and cheerful efforts. Up and down the
long line he rode, encouraging his toiling men, stopping to
help, devising ways to keep the wagons intact. In the brittle
air of the high altitude, wagon boxes seemed to disintegrate
Wheels dropped off. But the captain had a remedy. He had
the shrunken wheels removed and a band of wood nailed
around the fellies.
"Now heat the iron tires red hot/' he ordered. "Then put
them back on the wheel and dip the whole in the cold water
of this stream/'
The tires held. By the twenty-fourth of July, they had
grossed the divide and encamped on a clear, swift stream that
the captain decided was a tributary of the Seedskeedee. He
The first wagons had rolled over the crest of the Rockies.
"Well, Cap n, you made it/' Joe said.
Bonneville smiled. "If I never serve my country in any
other way," he said, "I hope history will set down this: He
Jook the first wagons across the Rockies."
They were there.
They were there and "building a fort in the
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
From the mountains Captain Bonneville gazed down
over the immense plain that was the valley of the Seedskee-
dee. Thirty to fifty miles wide at its upper part, the plain
broadened to about seventy miles in its lower reaches. Glar-
ing white and pale blue, the flat shimmered in the July heat,
but across the valley the captain saw with relief low moun^
tains of the dark color that meant timber.
"Straight across the plain," he ordered, trying to put
courage into his men by filling his voice with the cheer he
did not feel.
Sun-cracked white clay formed the floor of the valley-
Grass was sparse and saltweed lined the dry stream beds*
Even the sagebrush was scant and scrubby. With his weary,
thirsty men, the captain toiled on under the burning sun,
riding up and down the line to add what cheer he could.
Men and horses lagged as nooning time came, for they had
started at dawn.
And then, as if the grueling agony of the trail were not
trouble enough, a man from the rear guard came galloping
toward the wagons. He shouted as he rode, waving his hat
in the signal that meant danger.
"Indians," he yelled. "Indians!"
The captain had a moment of sinking despair. A large
band of Indians could surround and massacre his trail-weary,
suffering men. And this was a large band, for he could see
a great cloud of dust rolling rapidly down the wagon train.
He shook off his alarm and issued quick orders.
"Prepare! Prepare for attack!" he shouted.
Instantly wagons wheeled into a circle. In scrambling
haste the men took assigned places.
"Ride back, Joe/' the captain said. "Find out how many
we must fight/'
Joe came cantering back in a few minutes. He was grin-
"Them's not Injuns, Cap'n," he reported. "Them's white
The captain let out a breath with relief and watched the
dust cloud roll closer. Out of it rode fifty white men, each
leading heavily laden pack animals. Their leader rode up to
"How are ye?" the stranger said. "Lucien Fontanelle, here.
Trader and partisan for the American Fur Company."
"We're mighty glad to see white men," the captain re-
sponded, shaking hands with Fontanelle and making his
own business known. "We thought your dust cloud meant
Indians. From the look of those loaded packs, you are carry-
ing supplies to rendezvous."
"Right. We're on our way to Pierre's Hole with trade
goods for our trapping parties." The friendly eyes narrowed
slightly. "And you, Captain? You are heading there also?"
"Perhaps. Can we make it to the river tonight?"
Fontanelle looked at the jaded horses and broken wagons
and laughed scornfully. He shook his head.
"Wagons will hold you back. My Indian scouts told me
you had crossed the pass with wagons. I did not believe.
Better leave the wagons here. You'll never get them across
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 77
"We've brought tKem this far," the captain said stubbornly.
"Well get them to the Seedskeedee."
Fontanelle shrugged his shoulders and moved on with his
party. Bonneville and his men followed. Although they took
no time for nooning, camp had to be made that night without
water or grass. At noon the next day, when they reached
the Seedskeedee, men and horses plunged into its cool depths
to drink. The river's sullen green color was giving it a new
name the Green River, the name it bears today,
Fontanelle was encamped on the banks, and the two parties
joined in friendly celebration of trail troubles past. The next
morning Fontanelle crossed the river to camp and wait for a
band of free trappers who had promised to join him. Captain
Bonneville found a grassy valley on a tributary stream and
moved his camp there to rest his trail-worn men and horses.
Here the honest and friendly captain learned that honesty
and consideration were not the practices of the rival fur
companies. Cerre and Joe brought a disturbing report.
"Captain," Michel said, "Fontanelle has been up to the
usual American Fur Company tricks. 'Ecrasez toute I* opposi-
tion that's their policy. And they erase the opposition by
any means, honest or otherwise/'
"What's he done to erase us?"
"All the time he was pretending to be friendly with us, he
was talking most of our Delaware scouts into deserting."
"Yep," Joe put in, "promised 'em four hundred dollars for
the fall hunt if they'd up and jine him. Hull kit 'n' kaboodle
exceptin' three or four, packed up and skedaddled."
The captain frowned. Losing his good Delaware scouts
was a blow to the success of his expedition, and his usually
calm spirits ruffled into indignation.
"Very well," he said. "If that's the way Fontanelle wants
to play it, we'll play the same way. Joe, you pick another
78 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
good man and set out to hunt for those free trappers Fon-
tanelle waits for. Talk them into joining us instead. Offer the
trappers more wages than Fontanelle did/'
Two great American fur companies operated in the West:
the Rocky Mountain and the American. Captain Bonneville
knew now that he was considered an interloper. As the leader
of a newly organized fur company, he was not welcome in
the fur areas. The very size of his party threatened the other
companies. He realized he would have to fight them on their
own established fur grounds, areas they had trapped for two
decades. They might think him a greenhorn, he told himself,
but he knew how to fight. And fight he would.
A few days later the captain saw Joe Walker reining in
his horse atop a hill near the camp. With him was a curious
company. He had brought back the free trapperslords of
the mountain men. Astounded and amused, Benjamin
watched as they dug heels into their horses and galloped
breakneck down the hill, firing their rifles into the air, yelling
like savages riding into battle. Above bristling beards, their
cheekbones and noses were Indian bronze. Scarlet blankets
flowed back from their shoulders and their long unkempt
hair whipped free in the wind. Greasy buckskin hunting
shirts, belted at the waist with bright sashes, hung to their
knees. Trinkets and bells tinkled from the fringes of shirts
"Are they white men?" the laughing captain asked Michel.
'White as you, Captain, if they do look and dress like
Indians. They'll be invaluable to you. A free trapper owns
no master won't work for wages, but hell trap plenty beaver
for you, if you pay him well/'
"I'D pay. Well keep these men from Fontanelle/'
"They'll be worth what you pay. All the wilderness skills
are theirs. They'll find beaver streams where no trap has been
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 79
set. They know Indian sign and animal tracks. They know
that sight and hearing and the sense of smell may mean life,
and the lack of them the sudden arrow in the hack. And when
the senses fail, the free trapper feels out danger by sheer
Joe Walker dismounted in front of his lusty crew. "Got
'em fer ye, Cap'n. Treat 'em right and some of 'em will stay/'
Captain Bonneville turned to the free trappers. "There's
a welcome here for you, men," he shouted. "Good money for"
all of you. I'll pay you well for your furs. And for now a
feast and free allowance of grog for all."
Soon the mountain men were swaggering about the camp,
boasting of their prowess as hunters and trappers. One of
them strutted up to the captain.
"Fat times, Cap'n," he roared. "Meat in the belly and
free firewater. Matt Beers is my name, and here's one child
that'll jine ye. And they's others'll poke along."
As Bonneville shook hands, he studied the old trapper's
face. Keen blue eyes looked straight and fearless into his own.
Matt's long grizzled beard and hair were matted and un-
kempt, but wrinkles of sun and laughter were marked deep
about the eyes. Here was a man. Benjamin smiled, knowing,
that he had won his first round with the rival fur companies,
If the other free trappers were like Matt Beers, they would
be a help to the party.
While his men rested and the horses grew less lean ort
good grass, the captain wrote in his journal and readied
his reports to the War Department. Sitting under the shade
of a huge cottonwood tree at a crude table hacked from wood
at hand, he could not now be told from his men. His beard
had lengthened. His hat was battered, his buckskins black
with the smoke of many campfires. The report finished, he
drew maps and charts to illustrate his travels. Starting sucf*
80 BENJAMIN BONNE VILLE
denly, he bent to examine the maps more closely. He had
seen that all trails and rivers led to the valley of the Green.
Excitement sharpening within him, he called Joe to his table.
"Do you see what I see, Joe?" he asked, tracing out lines
on his map as he talked. "Look. Here's the Platte, a traveled
trail to the Missouri and Mississippi settlements, and hence
to the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Take this south
branch of the Platte and it leads to the Mexican towns of
Taos and Santa Fe. North from this camp the Popo Agie
and the Wind River form a way to the Yellowstone, and the
Yellowstone flows into the upper Missouri, which can be
reached from St. Louis by keelboats and the new steamers.
Cross this range to the west of us, and you come upon the
Snake River curving across its plain to reach the Columbia,
the British holdings and the Pacific/'
"Yep/' Joe said, "and southwest they say they's a big salty
lake. Jed Smith traveled around it to get to Californy in the
twenties. Hub of the wheel we're sittin' on, ain't it, Cap?"
Captain Bonneville pondered his map. Soldier at heart
and in training, he realized that if the United States should
go to war with England for the possession of the rich Oregon
country, a fort here in the very center of the fur areas, in the
very heart of the West, would be not only expedient, but
necessary. And there was still danger of war, he knew. When
he had left the East, American public opinion had been push-
ing war with England as the only way to win Oregon for
He looked at Joe, wondering if his leader could be trusted.
Joe seldom talked to the men of plans or orders. He had a
quiet yet deep regard for the good of his country. Surely Joe
could keep secret the plan that had suggested itself to the
"Look, Joe," he said, "if the United States should decide
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 81
to fight for Oregon, the Army would face untold military
difficulties. Troops would have to he transported over vast
areas; supplies and equipment packed to the West; trails and
passes held against enemy forces and hostile Indians. A fort
here on the cross trails of the West would he invaluahle to
the Army. I think we 11 build that fort/'
"Cap'n," Joe answered, looking puzzled, "I don't know
nothin' about sech as war. All I knowV trappin'. The men
signed up to trap, and they ain't goin' to like delay. They're
wantin' now to git to rendyvoo at Pierre's Hole afore the fun's
"We'll build the fort, Joe. Have the men cut cottonwoods
and snake in the logs to build a strong fortification."
"You ain't figgerin' on squattin' here? Thunderin' lot of
folly to winter here. Gits powerful cold, they say,"
"No. The fort first. Then we'll go on."
"Cap'n, a fort here is jest wolf meat good fer nothin V
"We'll build the fort," Captain Bonneville persisted.
So he built his fort. He called it a trading post for furs,
but it was sturdy enough for a fort, with its log walls and its
high encircling stockade fence. For its site he chose a strip
of well-watered land between Horse Creek and the Green
River. There would be trees for wood, grass for horses, water
for man and beast. He built his fort and the mountain men
and the rival fur companies snickered behind his back.
"Captain," Michel Cerre said, "do you know that the men
call your fort 'Bonneville's Folly' or Tort Nonsense'? They
laugh at us."
The captain smiled. Michel was young, sensitive to ridi-
cule, jealous for the good name of his captain.
"Does it matter what they call the fort?" he asked. But he
thought: Soon enough, if there is a war, the name of my fort
will be changed to Fort Common Sense.
82 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
When the foct was completed tKe captain made prepara-
tions to move toward the valley of the Salmon River, far to
the west. There, he had been told, the winters were mild.
There salmon and buffalo, elk and deer were plentiful.
"We'll make a cache here for our extra supplies," he told
Joe and Michel. "The wagons can go no farther, and weVe
more goods than the animals can carry."
Secretly at night the three leaders with a few trusted
helpers dug a cavelike pit into the clay bank well above the
high-water level of a stream. They stored the extra supplies
on sticks to keep the bales from damp ground and covered
the packs with old skins. Closing up the mouth of the cave
with dirt and rocks, they tramped the soil down well to
conceal the site of the cache.
Since many of the horses and mules still were trail gaunt,
Bonneville sent a brigade of men under a reliable trapper
named Mathieu to pasture the horses in the Bear River
Valley. When the horses had gained strength, Mathieu and
his men were to join the main party on the Salmon.
On a morning in late August the captain gave the orders
to start for the Salmon. He watched the men load three
heavy packs on each horse or mule. He laughed at the antics
of the obstinate mules and at the struggles of the enraged
trappers. Tom Cain, the greenhorn cook, was having such a
hard time that the captain offered to help.
"You'll have to learn to outwit a mule, Tom," he said.
<0 Tis not meself has the wisdom," Tom answered, his
Irish face red from his efforts. "Look at that one now. 'Tis
pure fun he's havin' himself, juggling them packs between
his legs fast as I put them on his back. Listen to him laughing
at me. Hee haw, you brute, hee haw."
Up the valley of the Green to its head rode the captain
and his men, turning then to the west to cross the spine of
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 83
a rugged ridge of mountains. Every day in the savage, lonely
land was a new thrill for him. Every hill they topped was
adventure, every mountain, every silent valley. Down into
Jackson's Hole they rode, with the three great Tetons lifting
high rocky spires into bright hlue sky. Up a pine- and brush-
clad pass they struggled to a high summit.
"The Great Plain of the Snake River/' Benjamin said,
gazing in wonder over the blue distances of sagebrush shim-
mering under the September sun.
"Looks flat/' Joe said, "but I'm wagerin' my first beaver
catch that it ain't. And we got to cross that desert."
"Right below us thar is Pierre's Hole/' said Matt Beers,
and added in disappointment, "Rendyvoo's over. Ain't no-
Pierre's Hole was a long green valley watered by a clear
stream on whose banks grew cottonwoods and tangled wil-
lows. To the east now rose the massive Tetons.
"This valley is not always as peaceful as it looks today/*
the captain said to Genre. "Do you remember the tale we heard
on the Green of a recent battle here between trappers at
rendezvous and warring Gros Ventre Indians?"
"I remember. Five whites killed and a half-breed. Many
"Where Blackfeet are, always there seems to be trouble,"
the captain remarked, making a mental note for his journal.
"And the Gros Ventres are a branch of the Blackfeet/*
Soon they came upon signs of the brutal battle. Around a
barricade of log and brush, evidently hastily built by the Gros
Ventres, lay the scattered bones of many Indians. The white
men had buried their dead.
"Coyotes and wolves have been here," Michel said, his
sensitive young face white.
g4 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Benjamin shuddered at tie gruesome relics of bloody
battle and determined again to keep his own men safe.
"From what was told me of this battle/' he said to Michel
and Joe, "the whites had their share in provoking the fight.
I believe that if Indians are treated fairly and courteously,
battles like this can be prevented/*
Joe spat into the underbrush. "Cap'n, kindness don't work
on them murderin' Blackfeet. They ve swore an oath to kill
off all trappers."
"Then let us hope to keep away from them/' he said,
smiling and undisturbed. "Caution, next to kindness and
understanding, is a good preventive against Indian troubles."
They camped that night on the site of the summer
rendezvous, where shelters that had held trading goods still
stood. The blackened circles of old fires told Bonneville that
trappers and Indians had met here to trade furs and buy
goods, to romp and carouse during the long summer holiday.
For two weeks the captain and his men toiled on across
the sagebrush desert of the Great Snake Plain. Men and
horses and mules sweated in the flaring heat of the September
middays and shivered under their blankets in the chill air
of the desert night. Streams were few ahd marches long
between. There was no game and the men suffered and
grew irritable from scanty rations and thirst. Even the cheer-
ful captain felt his zest for travel weaken under the day-long,
night-long hardship. But one day scouts came riding back
with good news.
"A river!" they shouted. "A big river!"
Benjamin spurred his jaded horse to the banks of the
stream. There he found huge, bloated dead fish.
"Them's salmon/' Matt said. "Wore 'emselves out swim-
min' upstream to spawn. This must be the Salmon River."
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 85
"Probably a tributary/' the captain said. "I liardly think
we have reached the Salmon, but we are near/'
They followed the large stream. The weather had turned
cold. Snow began to fall, wet and heavy. Bonneville took
from his pack his heavy coat of plaid wool, but even under
its warmth he shivered.
"Buckeye, the Delaware, is missin'," Joe reported when
they stopped to camp for the night. "He went out scoutin'
"Send out men to search for him/* the captain ordered.
"Tain't needed, Cap'n," Joe said comfortably. "Buckeye's
Injun. He'll find his way to camp."
Benjamin thought of his determination to lose no man.
"No/' he said firmly, "send out searchers. There's a bad
snow coming on, and there may be hostile Indians around.
We're right on the edge of Blackfoot country."
The search parties could find no traces of Buckeye in the
dark and the storm. In the morning the captain held up de-
parture for further search, although the men grumbled at the
delay when they were so near their winter haven. A few
hours later the search party returned with Buckeye riding
in their midst. Over his saddle was flung the carcass of an
"Buckeye not lost," he reported. "This Indian never lost
Hunt in hills. Come down to valley at dark. Wait for you.
Snow cover tracks. Not see you gone by, but not lost."
Captain Bonneville chuckled at the disgruntled Indian
and gave orders to move on to the Salmon. Soon the scouts
that he had sent ahead to spy out the country came galloping
"Indians!" they shouted. "Indians!"
Over the sagebrush hill to the west the Indians already
were swarming. Bonneville hastily surveyed the terrain.
gg BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
"To the cottonwoods over there/' he ordered. "Move fast.
It's a tig party. Blackfeet, maybe."
Galloping furiously to the cottonwood grove, the trappers
dismounted, tethered their horses behind them and hastily
dropped behind rock or tree shelter to prime their rifles. But
the Indian band had stopped on the hill.
"Prettym up for battle or peace parley/' Joe said.
"They have their women with them/' die captain said.
"That's no war party. But this is Blackfoot country. Let us
be sure. Wait until we can see what kind of Indians they
Rifles at aim, the trappers waited. More and more Indians
trooped over the hill. They held a powwow. At last one of
their number, evidently a chief, left the band and rode slowly
forward, making signs of peace. A young trapper lifted his
rifle, but the captain angrily struck up the muzzle.
"No," he said. "Wait."
The Indian chief, blanket swinging from his shoulder, his
naked chest glistening, the trinkets on his necklace catching
the sunlight, rode closer in dignified silence. Just out of rifle-
shot, he reined in his horse.
"Nez Perces," he called out and again made the sign for
Relieved, the captain dropped the sights of his rifle. Nez
Percys had never been know to harm white men since they
had sworn to a peace treaty with Lewis and Clark. He ad-
vanced to meet the chief.
"White men are friends to the Nez Perces/' he told the
chief in sign language and what Indian words he knew. "We
invite our brothers to make camp with us."
The chief smiled, shook hands, then waved for his people
to come on. The braves advanced first, painted, decorated
with plumes and skins and trinkets. Nearing the white men,
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 87
the warriors put their horses to a wild gallop and came on,
singing a high, weird song, clashing their shields and firing
into the air with their fusees, an inferior gun kept for
Indian trade. In front of Benjamin and the chief, the young
braves dismounted and began a wild dance to the rhythm of
the song. Then the braves retired to watch the leaders smoke
the pipe of peace. One of the free trappers knew a little Nez
Perce language, and through him the two commanders
"We go to the buffalo hunting grounds across the moun-
tains/' the chief said. "There we visit with our friends, the
Crow, We ride home with plenty meat, plenty buffalo robes
for the winter cold."
"Have you extra food?" the captain asked. "My men are
"We have dried and smoked salmon. That is all. But what
we have we wish to share with our white brothers."
Pleased with the generosity of the red men, Bonneville
kept his men camping for two days with the Nez Percys
while he talked with their chief to learn Nez Perce ways and
a little of their speech. He learned that these Indians were
a peaceful people, living deep in a mighty canyon of the
Salmon. Others of their tribe lived farther west, where they
ranged vast herds of horses in the mountain valleys.
Pleased with these kindly Indians, the captain exchanged
presents with the chief and won the Indian hearts by courtesy
and friendliness. Faithfully he set down all his findings in
the record that was to go to the War Department when there
was opportunity to send a letter. Here were Indians, he wrote,
who would be a help to the United States in case of war.
To strengthen friendly relations with the Nez Perces, he
sent Cerre and a brigade of men to accompany the Indians
on their fall hunt and to trade with them for a supply of
88 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
meat for his own winter camp. Then the captain rode with
his men to search for a likely spot for winter living. Five
miles farther down, the stream joined a larger river flowing
blue and silver in fall sunlight.
"We have reached the Salmon/' Bonneville said, en-
chanted by the beauty of the river in its wide grassy valley.
A few miles farther downriver from the forks, he found
a wide meadow, mountain encircled.
"Here will be our winter camp/* he told his men. "Here
we build fortifications for a long stay."
We shall not see it again as they ...
The vastness where no road ran but an Indian trail,
The beaver "breeding faster than man could kill.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
Captain Bonneville soon found that he had chosen a
luckless site for his winter camp. Game was scarce. Indians
had hunted the deer from the hills and the buffalo from the
prairies across the mountains to the east. Day hy day the
hunters ranged farther and farther away to bring in oc-
casional wild fowl or antelope. Often the grumbling men ate
the flesh of wolves and muskrats. Sometimes they subsisted
on the roots that grew in the valley. Sometimes they went
"We must divide our men/' Benjamin told Joe. 'Til keep
twenty men here to protect camp. From the others we'll
make three brigades and send them out to feed themselves.
You take twenty men, Joe, and cross the mountain to Horse
Prairie. There you may find buffalo/'
The captain found it difficult to feed even twenty men at
the encampment. A band of Nez Perces joined the camp, but
the Indians had no food with them but roots and wild
"We will go on a hunt for you," their chief offered.
''But you have only spears and bows and arrows. How can
you shoot buffalo? the captain asked.
"It is enough," the Nez Perces said, smiling.
The next morning Bonneville watched with astonishment
the religious ceremony that preceded the Indian hunt. The
90 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Nez Percys purified themselves in crudely constructed sweat
Laths and then, sweat glistening on bronze bodies, plunged
into the icy waters of the river. They prayed to the Great
Spirit for the success of spear and arrow. Chanting a hunting
song, they rode off over the hills. A few days later they re-
turned, their horses laden with the choice parts of many
"But how did you do it?" the captain asked the chief.
"We chase the buffalo on our fast horses. Buffalo tire. We
kill then with our spears. It is easy."
Six weeks later the wandering brigades returned with a
store of dried buffalo meat. With them they brought reports
of bands of fierce Blackfeet roaming far through the country.
"We never lost a man, Cap'n," Joe Walker reported, "but
we sure parted with a hull lot of good horses and mules.
Them red devil Blackfeet is all around us."
Many friendly Indians had joined the captain's band.
There were Nez Perces, whose noses were not pierced; Flat-
heads, whose heads were not flattened; Pend Oreilles, whose
ears were not large and pendulous. All of these Indians were
peaceful people, warring only when attacked. Benjamin
observed with astonishment their religious fervor, manifested
in long ceremonies and dances about their fires. These In-
dians liked the captain for his kindness and courtesy toward
them; they liked the protection the white man provided
against the marauding Blackfeet. But each Indian band
owned large herds of horses, and the grass of the valley soon
was grazed down to bare ground. Lulled into a feeling of
safety, the Nez Perces neglected to tether their horses at
night, allowing them to roam far to find grass.
One day a scout brought in a pouchful of fresh buffalo
meat, and reported that Blackfeet were lurking about the
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 91
camp. That night the raiders ran off forty of the good Nez
"Picket your horses," the captain told the Indians.
But the Nez Perces were careless, and the Blackfeet bold
and fearless. While the Indians were absorbed in their
gambling game of "stick and hand," a game similar to "button,
button, who's got the button?" the enemy stole into the camp,
cut the tethers and waited in the trees for the horses to find
themselves free and wander off to grazing ground. The Nez
Perces lost thirty more horses. Captain Bonneville was firm
with the careless Indians.
"Organize yourselves for war," he told the gathered chiefs.
"Unless you go after your horses, I shall have to ask you to
leave. The Blackfeet laugh at you. Soon they will grow
bolder and steal even my tethered horses."
But the Nez Perces did not believe in war for revenge.
"We can get more horses from our cousins to the west," they
said casually. "In their valleys are many fine horses."
"There is nothing for us to do," the exasperated captain
told Joe, "but move to a safer place. The grass here is gone
anyway, and all game has been frightened away."
The new winter camp they chose was deep in the moun-
tains on the north fork of the Salmon. Up a narrow, rugged
gorge the captain led his men and into a valley through
which flowed a small stream.
"Cap'n," Joe reported, riding back from scouting beyond
the valley, "this here place is some! They's another gorge
upriver. A few men could hold either gorge. They's elk
feedin' in all the cross valleys. And look up than"
Bonneville looked up to the high crags above the valley
to see queer small animals bounding from rock to rock.
"Them's ahsahta, mountain sheep. Mountain mutton, the
men call the meat. Ain't nothin' so good as that mutton."
92 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
"This is a wild paradise," the captain said, looking around
in wonder. "Here we will make our camp."
The early December days went peacefully by in the new
camp. Benjamin loved the bustling, active life of his camp.
The ring of ax on wood resounded as the men built log
shelters and a barricade fence. Hunters, red and white, rode
out each day, returning with pack animals laden with fresh
meat. Haunches of elk and venison and mountain mutton
roasted over the fires. In the evenings song and story and
laughter rose with the smoke from the campfires. The men
had plenty, and they were safe from the Blackfeet.
Christmas came with snow and biting weather. Captain
Bonneville remembered the teachings of his devout mother,
and on the eve of the holy day he read the Christmas story
to his men and his Indians grouped about a roaring central
All listened solemnly, and he was stirred to wonder as he
saw the softened expressions on the faces of his rough trap-
pers, and the childlike interest of the Indians in the holy
story. The flames leaped high, reddening the snows and
lighting the dark pines to life. Over the rugged wall of the
eastern mountains rolled a great bright western moon to
shine down, the captain thought, as stars must have shone
long ago over shepherds in Bethlehem. With a catch in his
voice, he finished the story and closed his Bible, thinking
reverently that God lived here in this vast loneliness. God
watched over white men far from home.
Of all the Indians, the Nez Perces had seemed the most
impressed with the story. "Come to my lodge tomorrow
when the sun is high/' the chief said. "We will have a feast
At noon the trappers, dressed in their gaudiest shirts and
their cleanest breeches, trooped to the lodge of the chief. In
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 93
front of the tepee, buffalo robes were spread on the snow
around a blazing fire. The chief motioned his guests to be
'Wait/' Benjamin said. "Let us pray."
The men removed their bedecked hats and bowed their
"Oh, God of wandering men far from home/' he prayed,
"look down on us with kindness this Christmas Day. Bless
this food of forest and stream. Keep us safe from enemy
arrow. Grant that all here, red man and white, may return
safely, each to his home/'
Indian women served a feast of roasted venison, elk and
mountain mutton, flavored with wild herbs and accompanied
by a salad of roots and buds gathered from under the snow.
Dried stewed huckleberries served as dessert.
After the men had gorged on the Indian food, they joined
the Nez Perces in games of skill and strength: foot and horse
races, shooting matches, wrestling bouts.
"Joe/' the captain said, watching, "this has been a good
Christmas, but I keep thinking of Mathieu and the men we
sent out from Green River, They are long overdue. I think
I'll set out in search of them. We'll start tomorrow. Michel
can take charge here. You choose ten of our best men to go
"Them murderin' Blackf eet is all around. Likely we'll meet
up with some on the Snake Plain."
The captain smiled. Joe was no coward, but he always
expected the worst of dangers.
"See that the men are well armed/' he persisted. "And
mount them on our fastest horses."
They rode south to John Day's defile and out on the
wintry plain. The wind was bitter and the snow was nearly
two feet deep. Benjamin shivered inside his old plaid coat
94 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Ruefully he wished for the warmth of long hair to cover his
ears, for even the lined hood of his coat did not keep away
the bite of frost. The hunters found no game. Food supplies
dwindled and were gone. For two days they rode without
food. Then hunters, circling in search of buffalo, came canter-
ing back with the cry of "Indians lurking!"
1 We have nothing to fear/' the captain assured his alarmed
men. "Our camp is easily defended. Pile up a barricade of
brush and drive the horses inside. Well be ready for attack"
All night in the cold they waited, keeping careful watch.
In the morning, when no Indians appeared, Bonneville gave
orders to push on.
"Look, Joe" he said late that afternoon. "Buffalo!"
Two lone buffalo, straggled off from some herd, grazed in
a gully. Hunters urged weary horses into a chase, and that
night the men feasted and were cheered.
"Two of the men got scairt out, Cap'n," Joe reported in
the morning. "Took some meat and rode off in the night.
Guess they thought we was gone coons to keep on ridin' over
this here plain." Hopefully he added, "Mebbe we better all
Discouraged, the captain looked over the vast snowy plain.
But he said, "No. We will go on."
On they rode. So bitter was the cold that often the men
dismounted, tramping through the snow to avoid freezing
in their saddles. The horses shared the suffering of the men.
All forage was covered, and at night the men cut frozen
willow branches or peeled the bark from an occasional cot-
tonwood to keep their mounts from starving.
They reached Godin's River (Big Lost River today) and
came out upon the plain of the Three Buttes. At the base of
the west butte they found a place swept bare of snow by
the strong winds. The horses tore at brittle, scanty grass
but had no protection from the icy wind. In the morning a
mule was found frozen to death. Mourning the mule as a
departed friend, the men grumbled among themselves.
"Cap'n," one of them said, "this country's too tough even
for mules. We want to go back. It galls us to keep fightin'
this snow and cold/'
Captain Bonneville did not blame his men. Had he known
the suffering into which he was leading his trappers, he
never would have left the warm camp on the Salmon. But
he did not want to turn back. He was determined to accom-
plish what he had set out to do. In desperation he gazed to
the south across the vast plain scarred by rocky gullies and
marked by low, rounded hills.
"A trail!" he shouted in sudden glad relief. "See, men, a
trail. Some Indian hunting party has crossed the snow. And
the trail leads south."
Encouraged, the men toiled on. That day the snow depth
lessened and the air grew more mild. They shot a lone buf-
falo, and sagebrush fires crackled under roasting meat.
The next day they saw a lone Indian horseman watching
from a rocky uplift. He galloped away, but the captain
spurred his trail-worn horse to overtake the Indian.
"Friends," he called. "Friends."
But the Indian dismounted, used his horse as a barricade
and aimed his fusee across the saddle. With signs and soft
speech the captain finally persuaded the Indian of their
"Are there white men encamped on the plain?" Bonne-
The Indian, who belonged to the Bannock tribe, nodded
his head. The captain urged his men on to the Snake River,
where he found Mathieu encamped with his brigade. He
told a story of starvation and Indian troubles.
96 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
"We stopped in the Bear River Valley/* Mathieu related,
"and when the horses had grassed up, we started for the
Salmon. But winter cotched us in a mountain valley and we
had to stay. Mighty nigh froze to death in the snow. We
was nigh starved, too, so I sent out hunters. Injuns trapped
'em and we lost three men. After that we jest holed up and
et horse meat. Come wanner weather, I got the men this far/'
For three weeks Bonneville remained on the Snake to
strengthen horses and men for the return journey. March
weather prevailed on the lower plain although it was early
February. At night the temperature dropped to freezing, but
the middays were warm and sunny. The low banks of the
river were bordered with willows and cottonwoods, and buf-
falo grazed on the plains.
"Next year," the captain told Joe, "well make winter camp
in this mild climate."
In mid-February he gave the orders for the ride northward.
After a few days on the plain they rode again into winter.
The snow was crusted now, but not strongly enough to bear
the weight of horses. Benjamin saw that the legs of his horse
were raw and bleeding from ice cuts. He dropped back.
"Well have to change lead horses every hour/' he said.
An icy wind blew across the desert. The temperature
dropped sharply at night.
"Dig pits in the snow," he suggested. "Pile the snow you
dig into ramparts against the wind/'
In the pits on spread buffalo skins, the men huddled to-
gether for warmth and sleep.
Back on the Salmon, Captain Bonneville began his prep-
arations for the work that had brought his men to the West.
Opening his stores, he distributed new buckskin breeches
and hunting shirts, powder and lead, beaver traps. He or-
dered a feast for his men and an issue of grog.
"Tomorrow," he told them, "we start for the Malade
"Wagh!" the men shouted. "Beaver. High time for heaver
On Godin's River they came upon a muskrat swamp.
"An extra price for every skin you take," the captain
The trappers cheered and set to work, but in the midst of
the hustle a scout came cantering hack to camp."
'Trail ahead," he called. "A fresh trail."
Captain Bonneville examined the trail, finding signs that
a trapping party traveled ahead to the heaver grounds on
"Joe," he said, "you take another man and ride to spy out
this other party."
Muskrat trapping was forgotten. The worried captain
pushed his men ahead in long daily marches. If this other
trapping party reached the Malade first, there would be few
beaver left for his men. Joe and his companions soon came
cantering back to meet the captain.
"Twenty-eight men and their Indians," Joe reported. "Bill
Subletted brother Milton, he's their leader. Rocky Mountain
Fur Company, and all of them men is skilled trappers. They'll
spoil our beaver take, Cap'n."
The captain fought off discouragement. The upper waters
of the Malade (now called the Wood River) were the only
good beaver grounds near by. He was not going to give up.
"The pass to the Malade is closed with snow," he said.
"Sublette will have to camp and so will we. While we wait
for the snow to go, our horses will get in better condition.
Well watch and beat Sublette to the start."
The two trapping parties camped near each other, not to
be friendly, but to watch each other's movements. It was late
April when Joe rode into camp from another spying ex-
"Subletted makin' to move out, Cap'n."
"Well ride out ahead of him then. Hell head for the
pass. Well try for a shorter way. Skirt the Lavas out there,
The country they traveled to the Malad was a savage
enemy, an America wilder than any land he had dreamed
about. With awe Benjamin gazed south across mile upon
mile of black volcanic rock spewed from the bowels of the
earth in some long-ago upheaval. Rounded cinder hills shoul-
dered black crags. Seas of tortured black rock were gashed
with deep craters and gullies. In that desolate and awful
place, no grass grew and no streams ran. The black and pitted
waste of rock reminded the captain of pictures he had seen
of the craters of the moon.
"It is Hades with the fires gone dead," he said.
During the spring months the captain and his men trapped
the upper waters of the Malade and the Boise. They shared
the area with Subletted men. Both groups cursed and re-
taliated when they found traps sprung or a beaver dam
destroyed to let the water out of a pond and cause the beaver
to move. Much of the mischief was done in fun, for it was
part of a trapper's life to make work difficult for a rival party.
"There is beaver enough for all/' Captain Bonneville said.
"We do not need to fight Sublette."
He was eager to learn more of the ways of the beaver and
of the methods of trapping this small animal whose pelt was
used to make beaver hats in the East.
"How do you know where to trap, Matt?" he asked one
day as he followed old Matt Beers about.
"See that gnawed bit of bark floatin' downstream, Cap'n?
Thar's beaver sign. ToFable neat little fellers they is. Eat
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 99
the baric off stored twigs and throw what's left out their front
door. If n we foller this stream up, well soon set eye on a
beaver pond. And look thar. More beaver sign." He pointed
to a small mound of dirt and twigs. "Them little varmints
roam far huntin' food. They makes these little mounds to
mark the way for other beaver to follow. And if n you want
more beaver sign, thar's a tree gnawed down so's the beaver
kin git to the tender bark on top branches and twigs/'
"What time of year do they store food?"
"Fall. Summertimes they build dams. Right smart little
cusses. IVe watched *em cut down trees so's they'll fall in the
water and start dammin' a stream."
"Oh, now, Matt, they aren't that clever. A tree leans fc>
ward the water. Naturally it falls in the water when it's cut."
Matt grinned. "Well, anyways, they work together better n
men do. Hull kit 'n' kaboodle turn out to haul bundles of
sticks and brush to make their winter camp. They brings
up mud from the bottom of the stream and slaps it on with
them big flat tails. Purty soon thar they are, all forted up fer
winter, with a hole under water for a front door. All they
got to do is dive down and come up in winter camp all snug
and warm. Fat times they got with bark and twigs and grass
cached agin the snowy months."
Matt stopped on the banks of a beaver pond and pointed
to the mound of branches and mud that dammed the stream
to iftake a deep, still pool.
"Thar ye be, Cap'n. Thar's beaver."
Matt set traps two or three inches under the water below
the slope of the bank. Farther away he drove a willow pole
into deep mud, chaining the trap to it. He cut a strip of bark
from a willow, took from his pocket a small stoppered horn
and dipped the end of his twig into it
IQO BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
"Beaver dope/' lie said. "Injuns call it medicine. I makes
my own out of castor glands of beaver I trap/'
He fastened the twig into the open jaws of the trap, letting
the twig extend a few inches above the surface of the water,
'Thar/' he said. "Beaver, he smells the musky smell that
means strange beaver to him and he comes a-swimmin'.
Raises his snout to git a whiff, then his hind legs drop down
in my trap. And thar he is cotched."
"Do many work free?"
Matt chuckled. "Mebbe some drags the trap ashore. Then
it gits cotched in brush. Mebbe some pulls the trap out in
deep water. Then the stick floats and holds him. He drowns."
"What do you do then?"
"Then we got to wade. Plumb icy that water is. Wadin' is
why trappers git crippled up with rheumatiz."
"If it weren't for trappers," the captain said, "the beaver
would have a good life."
"Better life than a trapper's got," Matt said, chuckling,
"Beaver, he's playful. Has himself a fat time racin', divin',
slappin' the water with his tail jest to hear the noise. Hull
winter of rendyvoo fun for him. Got nothin* to do summers
but build a home and git food. No starvin' times. No freezin'
times. Us trappers got to work in cold and wet and snow.
Got to git us plenty plews so's we kin git us some dollars to
fling at rendyvoo."
Captain Bonneville smiled. "And then at rendezvous you
'fling' all your dollars and back you go for another winter
of hard work to get more dollars."
"Dogged if ye ain't right, Cap'n," Matt said, grinning.
"A trapper s stream sure flows in a circle. But the trapper s
free whilst he's goin* round and round his circle. And this
child likes freedom,"
"I, too, Matt/' Benjamin said. "I, too, like freedom."
Ml sittin round, spittin* high and struttin' proud.
STEPHEN VINCENT BEN&T
"Rendezvous time is near/' the captain told Joe Walker
in early June. "We'll ride back to the Salmon caches and
then on to the Green River Rendezvous."
Topping a hill on the return journey, he reined in his
horse sharply, motioning for his men to halt and pointing
down into the valley before him.
"Buffalo/' he said, his spirits kindling into eagerness for
the hunt. "An immense herd. Well hunt and get a supply
of jerky for the trip to rendezvous."
Choosing twenty-two runners, he mounted them on the
swiftest horses. The excited trappers looked to the priming
of their rifles and awaited the signal for the chase.
"See that draw down there? 1 ' the wily captain asked. "The
one with the stream flowing out? The runners will drive the
buffalo past that draw. The rest of us will ride there to make
camp. We'll shoot the buffalo as they come by. That way,
we'll not have to haul the meat to camp."
From the draw Benjamin watched with tingling excite-
ment as his runners advanced in a column to within two
hundred and fifty yards of the buffalo herd. He raised his
hand in signal. The men spurred their horses from slow trot
to wild gallop. Into the herd they rode. The buffalo thun-
dered past them, dust rising in a brown cloud from drum-
102 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Soon cracked marrow bones sizzled over fires, hump and
boss boiled in the kettles, steaks toasted at the end of ram-
rods. The remaining meat, cut in strips, was dried over slow
Back on the Salmon by mid-June, Bonneville opened his
stores to trade with the Indians and the trappers who had
remained on the Salmon. To his surprise, the free trappers
who had joined him on the Green River refused to accom-
pany him to rendezvous. Only Matt Beers, the grizzled and
kindly trapper whom the captain had learned to trust, was
willing to make the long trip.
Til trail along with ye, Cap V Matt said. "Ye got the
caution and the know-how to keep us out of Injun fights/*
"Not for us," the other free trappers said. "We're tired
of traipsin*. We got Injun wives now and papooses comin',
Ye're headin through Pierre's Hole, and they's Blackfeet
round thar mebbe. We ain't hankerin' to git sculped. We'll
summer on the headwaters of the Salmon and be on hand
fer early beaver trappin* this fall"
The captain was disgusted at the fears of his men, but in
fairness to them he yielded to their wish. "Very well," he
said. Til outfit you and appoint a leader for you. Meet me
on the Snake in the winter/'
Early in June the rendezvous seekers rode out to the south-
east. Looldng back from a hilltop, Benjamin saw a scene
that was to linger long in his memories of the West. Out
from the deserted winter encampment rode a long line of
free trappers on their way to fresh hunting grounds. Behind
them, leading laden pack horses, rode the Indian wives,
bright with scarlet blankets. In every direction bands of
Indians scattered toward their separate homes. Travois poles
dragged in the dust. Indian children sat on the packs, Indian
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 103
boys drove the horse herds and lean Indian dogs trailed the
dust clouds. Winter camp was over for the year.
"Thar she is!" Joe Walker exclaimed when they rode ovef
the last hill from Jackson's Hole. "Thar s rendyvoo of 1833!"
From the valley of the Green River rose the cloud of dust
and blue wood smoke that meant many people. Matt Beers
rode to the head of the line of trappers.
"The men want to stop and purty up, Cap'n," he said, his
eyes twinkling in their crisscross of wrinkles. "Got to ride
in to rendyvoo in trapper style/'
Captain Bonneville laughed. "Of course, Matt," he agreed-
"I wouldn't think of stopping the Bonneville men from mak-
ing proper entrance/'
Decked in feathers and bright neck scarves, the trappers
charged at high speed down into the rendezvous encamp-*
ment. Bells on their horses' bridles tinkled. Yelling, shout-^
ing, hallooing, firing their rifles into the air, the captain's
men swept into camp with a thunder of hoofs and a rattle
"Wagh, rendyvoo!" they shouted. "Here's Cap Bonne-*
More soberly the captain rode in, looking about him with
eager curiosity and flooding excitement. He found that he
was strangely glad to see many people again. Being a captain
was often a lonely business, and here there were men of his
own kind leaders and partisans and traders to whom he
could talk. He stopped his horse to gaze at the welcome
gaiety and bustle of the great camp.
"It's like a populous town," he told Cerre. "Only it's like
no town I've seen in all my travels."
Around the log and brush shelters of the traders swarmed
hundreds of trappers, elbowing each other to buy bright
104 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
shirts and tobacco, powder and lead, new rifles and blankets.
Among the trappers stalked Indians, trying to get close
enough to the counters to barter the furs of a year's labor
for a scarlet blanket and some gewgaws for the squaws, or
to trade for one of the coveted Northwest guns. The traders
were doing a big business; the fur presses clattered and the
baled skins mounted higher.
On the meadows near by, trappers lounged around the
many cooking fires, and the captain could hear the loud
bursts of lusty laughter that followed big boast or tall tale.
Comely Indian girls, dressed in buckskins whitened with
clay, simpered and giggled as they paraded past the white
trappers. In the open spaces beyond, Indian braves showed
off their fine horses, making their mounts curvet and prance.
Removed from the camp, along a creek, the tepees of the
gathered Indians were white cones set on the green of grass.
"Ride on to Horse Creek/' the captain ordered his men.
"Well make our own trading post our headquarters/'
Fort and cache were undisturbed. Bonneville opened his
stores and set up his trading counter, doing a lively business
with his own men and with Indians and free trappers who
brought in their furs.
"I have to ask prices that shame me," he told Cerre, "but
I have to keep my backers satisfied. Rifle balls that cost me
six cents in St. Louis I have to sell for a dollar to my trappers.
Tobacco, a few cents in cost, sells for another dollar a pound.
Shirts and blankets and rifles everything costs the trapper
"It costs you money to pack the goods out here, Captain,"
Cerre reassured. "We have to get good prices."
Benjamin was astonished at the friendliness of his men
with the trappers of the other fur companies.
"How does it happen," he asked Matt, "that all during
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 105
trapping season there's nothing too destructive that you can
do to men of the rival companies? And now you're the best
Matt chuckled. 'Tart of a trapper's way of livin', Cap'n.
When heaver's prime, we're mighty keen to keep the other
feller from trappin'. Comes rendyvoo, and beaver's sheddin'
in summer, then it's time to fergit scrappin' and jest jine each
other in layin' up enough fun to last a hull year."
During the long afternoons the trappers from all three
companies joined the games of chance and sport and strength.
They raced their horses and held shooting matches. They ran
foot races and contended in wrestling matches. In the eve-
nings the hilarity reached a rollicking peak. Their tongues
loosened by watered whisky at five dollars a pint, the trap-
pers swaggered and strutted from fire to fire. Loud were their
boasts and exaggerated their tales of unknown valleys and
mountains explored, of sudden danger and violent action
and miraculous escape, of buffalo hunts and battles with the
fierce gray grizzly bear. Roaming from fire to fire the captain
caught snatches of the lusty brag and boast.
Captain Bonneville took part in the fun of the trappers'
annual vacation, visiting often with the leaders of the other
fur companies. But he had work to do. Rendezvous was a
time to make his plans and ready his report to the War
Department. And he had a decision to make now, a decision
that might affect his entire life thereafter. His furlough was
up in October of 1833, and it was now late in July of that
year. Should he return? His furlough had been granted so
late in August that he had been forced to wait for spring
before beginning his explorations. A year had not been
enough to allow him to carry out his orders. He had not
reached the Columbia nor explored the lands to the Pacific.
Benjamin smiled to himself, thinking of the vast distances
106 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
he had covered. He knew that the staid military men sitting
in their eastern offices could have no conception of the tre-
mendous spaces of the West or of the difficulties that an
explorer who rode those miles must face. A year was not
enough. What, then, should he do? Should he return to the
East with his orders unaccomplished? Or should he assume
that the orders were of greater importance than was his re-
turn before his furlough expired?
At a crude table inside his fort he studied his maps and
charts and his long report. The maps were good, he knew.
They charted rivers, mountains and valleys more accurately
than any other maps of the West he had ever seen. He
checked his reports. Yes, it was all there: accounts of his long
first year's journey with records of temperatures, altitudes,
geological formations and the points at which wood and
water might be obtained. There was information on all the
Indian tribes he had met: Crows, Blackfeet, Shoshones, Ban-
nocks, Flatheads, Nez Perces, Pend Oreilles. There was a
history of the fur trade in the West, of the activities of the
companies and the prices they obtained for trade goods and
paid for furs. There was an account of the monopoly of the
Hudson's Bay Fur Company and of their hostility toward
Americans. There was a discussion of the fertility of the
Columbia River lands and of the rich valley of the Willa-
mette, information gleaned from travelers. He had only to
write the beginning and the end of his report.
Benjamin laid down his quill pen, pushed aside his com-
pleted papers, lit his pipe and gave himself to deep considera-
tion. He had done well. His report contained a vast amount
of valuable information for the War Department, which was
faced with a possible war with England. But he had not
reached the Pacific. He knew nothing about the land or the
Indian tribes west of the Snake Plain. He had not finished
BENJAMIN BONNBVILLE 107
the work he had been sent out to do. He had not carried out
his orders completely. Orders or furlough? That was the
decision he must make.
Reason and logic told him that he must carry out his
orders. He must ask for an extension of his furlough. Or
better still, he must assume in his letter that the orders were
to be carried out regardless of time and a furlough. He
picked up his quill and began his letter, smiling at the
masterly understatement of his first sentence.
This country I find is much more extensive than I could have ex-
How could a man put into words the great riversthe
Platte, the Seedskeedee, the Salmon, the Snake? How could
a man find words to tell of the nameless streams and valleys,
the sagebrush plains, the mountain ranges. How could a man
write the loneliness, the largeness, the wonder? Sighing, he
... as yet ... I have actually visited, only, the heart of the Rocky
Mountains. I have therefore remained, I hope I have not trespassed too
much upon your goodness, to explore the North of the Columbia, I
would not have presumed this much were I not aware how desirous you
are of collecting certain information respecting this country, and my re-
turn at present would have afforded hut half the story. . . .
Again he stopped for thought, then added his soldier's
picture of the military situation should war come.
If our Government ever intend taking possession of Oregon the sooner
it shall be done, the better, and at present I deem a subaltern's command
equal to the task, yet I would recommend a full company. , . . Five men
would be as safe as a hundred either from indians who are extremely
peaceable and honest, or from the establishments of the Hudson Bay
Company, who are themselves to [o] much exposed by their numerous
small posts ever to offer the least violence to the smallest force.
After more information concerning the various forts of the
Hudson's Bay Company, the captain concluded his letter:
On my xetuxn die last of June  I shall meet M. S. Cerr6 and i
you shall have any instructions for me, shall be glad to receive them
either to join any party that might be sent, [or] to comply with any other
commands in the country, or to return to the states,
I have the honor to be, General with ever consideration Your most
B. L. E. Bonneville
To Major General Alexander MacComb
General in Chief, U. S. Army.
The letter would have to do, the captain thought as he
wrapped and sealed his package. He would send the papers
east with Michel Cerr6, whom he intended to dispatch with
a party of men down the rivers in bullboats to the Missouri
to carry the year's catch of furs to St. Louis. Cerre would
be a dependable leader for the river trip, since he once had
traveled the Missouri. He would also be dependable in see-
ing that the papers reached the hands of General MacComb.
Feeling relieved, he turned his thoughts toward plans for
Should he return to the Salmon? No, he decided* There
was country to the north that he had not seen. The names
of rivers and mountains in the Crow country were music in
his ears: Wind River Mountains, the Big Horn River, the
Popo Agie, the Yellowstone. He must explore that country.
He would go with Michel, see him started safely down the
Big Horn. Then with his men he would trap for the fall
season in the Wind River Mountains.
That night Benjamin lay long awake, looking at the great
bright stars of the West, listening to the wind in the cotton-
wood trees, to the howl of the wolf and the long, eerie cry
of the coyote. He thought about all the lands of wild Amer-
BENJAMIN BON NEVILLE 109
ica that he did not know. He remembered what Joe Walker
had said of the Southwest, the Spanish lands that lay beyond
the Big Salt Lake. Someday that land, too, might belong to
America. He longed to see it, but he had responsibilities: he
must explore the Columbia River Valley. But Joe Walker?
Joe wanted to see that desert land again. Why not send Joe
"Joe," the captain said the next morning, "how would you
like to lead a party on a trapping expedition around the Big
Salt Lake? There would be beaver on the streams flowing
into the lake."
Joe's brown eyes gleamed with an old dream. "Nothin' I'd
like better, Cap'n," he said briefly.
"What's west of the Big Lake?"
"No man knows. Jed Smith of the Rocky Mountain Com-
pany, he crossed to the south of the lake clean to Calif orny.
Found nothin' much but burnin' desert till he got there.
Californy was Spanish missions, and the Injuns was under
the thumbs of the padres."
"This River Buenaventura that they talk about, Joe isn't
it supposed to flow out of the lake toward California?"
"No man knows that either. Jed, he didn't find no River
Buenaventura. Must flow north of his trail,"
The captain considered. California was said to be rich in
streams and valleys. All of the land between the Atlantic
and the Pacific he firmly believed would one day be part of
one great countryAmerica. A river road to California would
be a help to the United States. Settlers would follow a river
trail. Or if there were no river, then there must be a shorter
route through the desert lands. He made a quick decision.
"Joe, you take forty men and explore around the lake.
Trap the streams to the west. See if you can find the River
110 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Buenaventura. See if you can find a shorter route than Jed
"You mean go all the way to Californy?"
'Til leave that to you, Joe. I trust you. But see what lies
west and north of the Big Lake at least."
"Ain't goin' to be easy. Ain't goin' to be safe. No man
knows what's out there. What water, if any. What moun-
tains, what Injuns."
The captain smiled. Joe always found arguments against
any proposed plan, but once the arguments had been voiced,
he worked with will and strength for the success of the
"I know that," he said. "Outfit your men with the best we
have. Spare no expense. I'll leave arrangements to you. You
wanted to see that southwestern country again, Joe, Here's
Joe squared his shoulders and grinned.
"I'll take the chance, Cap'n," he said. "And if I don't git
back well, that's the way my stick floats, I reckon."
They went with axe and rifle when the trail was
still to blaze.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
The rivers led Captain Bonneville and his men into the
Crow country. They crossed the Green and pushed through
the southern spurs of the Wind River Mountains until they
came to the Popo Agie. And the Popo Agie was as beautiful
as its musical name. There were upland plains and mountain
meadows, and twice the river forced a way through immense
mountain ranges. Here the stream tumbled and roared down
its rapids in swift white water.
In a confusion of red sandstone hills and crags, the captain
found the famous Tar Spring of which he had heard. The
sluggish stream flowed thick and black.
"Bituminous oil/' the captain said, "sometimes called
naphtha or petroleum."
"Call it them foofuraw names if you want/* Matt Beers
said. "It's tar to me, and it cures saddle gall. Good fer rheu-
Benjamin laughed as he watched his trappers scoop hand-
fuls of oil to slap on their horses' hacks. Some of the men
nibbed the slimy oil on their own aching joints.
Where the Wind River flowed into the Big Horn from
the west, Bonneville met a party of Rocky Mountain men
under Trader Robert Campbell and Trapper Tom Fitz-
patrick. With them were two strangers: Captain William
Drummond Stewart of Grandtully, Scotland, and Nathaniel
112 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Wyeth. Captain Stewart was a wealthy nobleman, a sports-
man who loved the lonely western lands of America and
traveled them for the sole purpose of hunting and enjoying
the wild scenery. Wyeth was a shrewd Yankee trader who
had started for the Pacific with a small band of New Eng-
landers, none of whom ever had seen an Indian or handled
a rifle until they reached the frontier.
"I reached the Pacific/' Wyeth told the captain. "I had
men and trading goods to start a salmon fishery there, but
most of my men were scared out. They took a trading ship
back to New England."
"Will you give up on your salmon fishery?" the captain
asked. "We should have an American industry on the coast"
"This Yankee doesn't give up," Wyeth said dryly. "I'm
taking my furs downriver to sell. I'll be back with capital.
Oregon is rich. Someday it must be part of the United
Liking the determined Yankee and the flamboyant Scotch-
man, Bonneville joined forces with the Rocky Mountain
men and rode on to the Big Horn. When they reached the
head of navigation, each company set about making bullboats
to float furs down the rivers to St. Louis. The captain watched
his men secure buffalo skins with buckskin thongs to rounded
frames made of sturdy willow boughs. They calked their
rafts with buffalo tallow and wood ashes.
"Those rafts do not look too sturdy," the captain said,
worrying about the papers he must entrust to Genres care.
"These letters must reach the War Department without fail."
"The boats will get us there, Captain," Cerre assured.
"And I'll personally carry your papers to the Army."
As Captain Bonneville gazed after his thirty-six men
bobbing down the river in the frail craft, black doubt pressed
on his spirits. Hostile Indians would lie in wait for his men.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 113
Falls and rapids and snags would clutch at die boats. What
if Cerre never reached St. Louis? What if his reports and
maps never were delivered? The furs must be marketed, too,
or his year's work would bring only loss. There were too few
bales of pelts anyway. For a few black moments he felt empty
and alone in his disheartenment. Then his native cheerful-
ness won over his fears.
Another year lies ahead, he told himself. Another year to
gather more furs, to manage his men better. Another year
to amass more information for the War Department.
Courage strong again in him, he turned to the four lone
men left on the riverbank with him. When he had first
reached the Big Horn, he had sent out two brigades to begin
the fall trapping. They were to work their way westward
toward Medicine Bow and to wait for him there. He was
glad that he had kept Matt Beers as his own guide. Matt
knew the Crow country; and besides he was always cheerful,
willing to do any job, ready and quick in danger. Matt had
good sense. He was good company.
"Let us get started, Matt," the captain said. "Dangerous
Indian country lies ahead for five men alone/*
"We'll git through, Cap'n. Only I reckon we'd make it
easier without them forty-six horses to herd along. Them
horses is just bait to draw Crow Injuns, like the smell of
buffler carcass pulls in wolves and magpies."
"We 11 ride with caution."
They had need of caution. On their first day out they saw
"Smoke signals, Matt," the captain said, looking through
his spyglass. "See. At the base of that mountain."
"Yep. Blackfeet, mebbe. Smoke dies down, then goes up
in a big puff. Means they know were here. That signal's
sayin', White men comin'.' "
114 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE;
'Well go around," Bonneville told his men. "Ride with
Climbing a mountain, they camped on its summit, barri-
caded in the remains of an old Indian fort. Cautiously the
next morning they rode down to a plain.
"Injuns been here," Matt said, pointing to the carcasses
of many buffalo and the footprints of many horses.
The captain looked over the barren plain that spread to
the foothills of the Little Horn Range.
"If Indians sight us," he said, "well be in desperate plight.
There's little or no cover. Push on, but with care. Discharge
no gun. Well light no fires."
Riding with rifles cocked, they started over the plain. One
night they camped in the open, building a breastwork of
earth and rock. One night they found willows along a creek
and slept hidden in a thicket. Another night they crowded
on a small island in a swift stream, tethered their horses on
the bank opposite the island and took turns guarding. They
reached the meeting place safely, but the brigades were not
"We must wait," the captain said, "but don't grow care-
less. Build a pen for the horses and a barricade for us. No
cooking fires except at midday when smoke will show little,"
It was not long before the trapping brigades came in. Each
detachment had had brushes with the Indians.
"Blackfeet, they was," one of the brigade leaders said.
"Some of them pesky Injuns crawled inside elk skins and
pretended to be grazin' in a meadow. Fooled us. We was
hungry and set out to hunt. Them elks vanished in timber.
And whilst we was chasm' em, more Injuns crep' to our
camp and made off with horses and packs."
"Did they get your beaver traps?"
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 115
The man nodded, shame faced. "Hull kit V kaboodle,
Cap'n. How we goin' to trap now?' 1
Bonneville sighed. This was a serious setback to the fall
'Til have to return to the caches on the Green/' he said.
"We must replace the stolen supplies. I'll take three men
with me. The rest of you proceed to the headwaters of the
Wind and wait for me there." He turned to Matt. "Will you
go with me, Matt?"
"Sure, Cap'n. This childll poke along. Fm keen as the
next feller to keep my ha'r, hut I never sot eye on a carefuller
man than you he. Reckon you'll git us thar and back."
There was danger, but the ride to the Green turned out
to be a pleasant adventure, each day filled with beauty and
interest for Benjamin.
One day he climbed a high ridge, hoping to spy out a way
through the mountain wilderness. The climb was steep and
rugged. At the top he had to lie for a time on the snows until
he could draw breath more easily in the high, dry air. From
the summit he gazed out over mountain peaks, over dark
and deep defiles, over high meadows with tiny gems of lakes
gleaming blue or emerald in the hollows. For a long moment
he stood gazing to the west, alive to the silent immensity of
the land. If his trapping expedition failed, he thought, this
he had seen. This was his forever.
With all his heart he wanted to explore every lonely
valley, every hidden lake, but he was responsible for the
welfare of his men. He turned his face to the east and caught
the glint of sun on a distant plain.
"We'll have to turn east and south," he told his men when
he had scrambled down the mountain. "West there is no
One day they saw three Indians skulking through the
116 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
crags on foot. The captain fired his rifle In the air to attract
their attention, but they fled like wild men into the rocks.
"Poor Devil Injuns/' Matt said. "No horses. No guns/'
"I know/' the captain said. "Early French trappers called
them Les dignes de pitie. And indeed they look worthy of
pity. They are the hermits of die mountains."
Reaching the caches in safety, Bonneville drew stores and
began the return journey. In the deep defile that led from
the Green to the Wind Mountains, they saw Indian sign,
and toward evening the captain spied an Indian lurking in
'We dare not be trapped in this defile," he said. "If a big
band is following us, they 11 attack at dawn/' He thought a
minute and then laughed. 'We'll play a game of wits and
bluff with our friends/'
He gave his orders and the men chuckled. They had shot
a buffalo on a plain near by. At sunset they built a great
cooking fire, roasted their meat, talked and sang loudly. Then
they threw big logs on the fire for the night, and under the
cover of the darkness outside the circle of firelight, they
slipped into a willow thicket and mounted their horses.
Silently they rode away, smiling at the thought of Indians
who might be watching the campfire and waiting for dawn
before attacking men who were not there.
The next morning they were up at dawn, riding breakfast-
less through the forest, watching to left and right, to front
and rear. Benjamin, who had learned to read Indian sign as
well as his most experienced trappers, at first saw on every
side the tracks of Indians. Soon there were no tracks.
He chuckled. "They took our bait/' he told Matt. "And
they were angered. They hunted us then, but we were too
well hidden. Now they have returned to our first camp to
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 117
start a new hunt. They're far behind now. We can push on
"Cap'n," Matt said admiringly, "you not only got proper
caution, but ye got wits. Wed be gone coons if ye hadn't
thought up that there false camp/ 1
On the Wind River the captain found his brigades. Traps
were distributed and the men cheered and went to work.
One day Matt stumbled back to camp, his bare feet cut and
bleeding. He was wrapped in a mangy buffalo robe, but
under it he was naked.
"Young Crow braves cotched me, Cap'n," the old trapper
explained ruefully. "A big band. They was leadin' a lot of
what looked like Tom Fitepatrick's bosses. They was feelin*
good because they'd stole those bosses. Otherwise they'd of
sculped me. Sure thought I was a gone coon with them red
devils dancin' round me. They took everything I had
clothes, horse, traps, blankets. Screeched and laughed when
I slunk off in this ole buffalo robe they guv me/'
"Thoughtful of them to give you some cover," Bonneville
said, laughing with his men at the disgruntled Matt "Noth-
ing's hurt but your dignity."
The fall months passed, and the bales of beaver pelts
mounted high in spite of the constant watch necessary
against the thieving of the Crows. It was now time to head
for winter quarters at the confluence of the Portneuf and
After a visit to the Green River caches, the captain led his
men over ridges to the south and west to reach the Bear
River, where there was good trapping. They camped on
Little Lake. Trapping the marshes and streams with his men,
Bonneville came upon a region of soda springs, whose waters
tasted of iron and sulphur.
"Wagh!" Matt Beers exclaimed, "It's Beer Spring,"
Jig BENJAMIN BONNEVILLB
The trappers drank huge drafts. Pretending that the water
had the same effect as heer, they staggered and sang noisily.
With all his party safely in winter camp on the Portneuf
River, Benjamin decided on a daring expedition for him-
self. He would take three men and explore the course of the
Snake River as far as the Hudson's Bay trading post at the
mouth of the Columbia. For his report he needed informa-
tion about the route and the Indian tribes to be found along
the way. He would take Matt with him, he decided.
"Cap n, I ought to be trapping Matt said. "But 111 go.
Only I reckon ye got the ha r of the black Far in ye. The
Snake ain't no soft river. And I heerd them mountains be-
yond ain't no easy job in summer. It'll be dead of winter
time we git there."
"We've braved mountains and snow before, Matt," the
captain said. "We start on Christmas Day."
The Snake was indeed no soft river. It was a river of
moods, never the same, but never to be mistaken for any
other river. Once, when they had ridden for a day across one
of its loops, they came at dusk back to the river s roar. Bonne-
ville s horse, loping through the sagebrush, stopped abruptly.
Looking down, the captain was startled to see that the Snake
had cut a great chasm in the rock. Far, far below, the river
was a thread of sullen green. As they rode on, the roar
deepened. Here the waters thundered over a great horseshoe
of rock to plunge in white mist on black rock thousands of
Cutting across the loops when he could, the captain rode
on down the river, marveling at its varied scenery. At one
place a thousand springs gushed from a black rock wall to
fall in white water to the blue Snake below. He crossed
tributary streams that had cut deep channels into rock walls,
traversed lovely hidden valleys, climbed tortured and barren
hills. In a valley west of the river he stopped to talk to a band
of Root Digger Indians and traded a length of bright red
cloth for a supply of smoked salmon.
The weather was warm and pleasant, and the Snake
smiled and lured them on with sunny slopes free of snow.
Then the river turned an evil shoulder and led them into
the heart of savage country, where hill after sterile hill closed
in upon them.
The hills became black canyon walls, rising perpendicu-
larly from the river to a height of over five thousand feet.
Wet and sticky snow had fallen during the night, and horses
and mules slipped on narrow shelves of footing along the
shore. And then the footing was gone. Frowning walls
reached out in rock or boulder mass to the very edge of the
"Cap'n," Matt urged, "this here canyon is somethin* outa
hell. Let's turn back/'
"A little farther, Matt Surely we'll be out of this HelFs
He turned his horse up a steep shelf that narrowed as he
rode high above the boiling, tumbling river. Ice and snow
coating made the footing treacherous. The black rock wall
brushed his shoulder on one side. Below them the chasm
meant death if his horse's foot slipped. Slowly, carefully,
he traversed the shelf and came down again to the river.
"Never knew what bein' scared meant afore/* Matt said
as he, too, rode down from the shelf.
"There's footing for a way now," the captain said cheer-
Riding close to the river's roar, over white sand bars and
then another shelf of wet, slippery rock, Benjamin knew
that he should turn bacL He was endangering the lives of
his men to satisfy his own desire to see what lay beyond the
120 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
next bend of the river. He was torn from his thoughts by
a sudden shout from the rear.
"Horses in the river," Matt called above the roar of rapids.
Dismounting, the captain scrambled over the rocks to the
rear. A pack horse was struggling against the swift current
With a heavy heart he saw the animal swept away to be
dashed to death on jagged rocks. The packs held gifts for
Indians and priceless food stores lost now to feed the hungry
river. A second horse struggled in the mad waters, but Matt
held the end of the lead rope in his hands and was slowly
pulling the horse through the raging river to quieter water
in the lee of a great boulder.
"You can't land it here/' the captain said. "Let out the
rope and guide the horse to that bar down there/'
Dripping and quivering, the horse staggered out of the
river on the hard-packed bar.
"This settles it/' Bonneville said. "We go back/'
"They was some food on them other packs," Matt
mourned. "We'll starve for sure now. The old Snake's cuffed
"La Riviere Maudite Enragee" the captain mused. "So
the early French trappers named it. The Mad Accursed
River. I dislike turning my back on anything I attempt, but
no man can conquer this river."
They scrambled over rocks and crags; in the deep snow
of the northern exposures they beat a way on foot for the
horses to follow. Over mountains they struggled, finding feed
for the horses sometimes on the wind-swept summits. In the
valleys between the peaks, where the snow lay deep and
drifted, the forward moving was torture for both men and
horses. Food gave out and for three days they starved.
"Kill a pack mule," the captain ordered reluctantly.
They killed the mule, ate without relish to gain strength,
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 121
then dried the remaining meat for the rest of the journey.
On they toiled. The mule meat was soon gone. Men and
horses grew gaunt and weak from exhaustion and hunger.
One night they camped in a deep, forested ravine with a
roaring fire to drive out the day s chill. Matt had shot a snow-
shoe rahhit Although the rabbit, divided, made only a mouth-
ful apiece for the four men, the tough meat put new strength
into all. Matt even found energy enough to complain.
"We ain't goin' to git out of this, Cap'n. Death's a red
Injun ambushin* us from behint every crag, jest a-waitin' to
plant his sudden arrow in our backs."
"Well miss that arrow yet, Matt," Benjamin said, trying
to sound cheerful. "Be thankful this meat is going to give
us strength to put one foot in front of the other a little
The next day they plodded through the smothering white
curtain of a blizzard. The captain shivered inside his warm
plaid greatcoat, but he kept stumbling forward against the
blinding snow. That night, huddled in coat and blanket, he
knew that tomorrow must bring relief or death. With grim
humor he thought of the sentence with which he had begun
his letter to the War Department. "This country," he had
written, "is much more extensive than I could have ex-
pected." Extensive it was, and cruel in its vastness and lone-
liness. Silently he prayed then, asking the God of the wilder-
ness for deliverance for his men.
At noon the next day he took his turn at breaking trail.
Each forward step was an agony of effort. Often he fell in
the deep snow, losing more of his failing strength in flounder-
ing to his feet. Ahead of him was a ridge topped by a curl of
wind-driven snow. Doggedly he forced himself to climb the
ridge. And there below him was a wide, protected mountain
122 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
valley greening faintly under the sun of mid-February. His
mind could scarcely believe the green.
A land of surprises, lie thought. A land of wonders. Fifty-
three days he and his men had fought ice and snow in the
mountains, and now it was spring down in the valley. He
turned to his men.
"God has saved us," he said Briefly.
Down the mountain they scrambled, sliding, slipping,
pulling the horses after them. On the valley floor Indian
trails led them to a Nez Perce village.
Captain Bonneville stayed for many days in the lodges of
the hospitable Nez Perces. The men rested; the horses fat-
tened on grass.
"These Nez Perces," he wrote in his journal, "are the
purest-hearted people on the face of the earth/*
The pure hearts were generous, but the tribe had little
meat. The Indians offered the travelers a feast of roots and
"Cap'n," Matt said ruefully, "my meat bag craves meat
Listen to it growl for meat/'
Til see what I can do/' the captain said.
Not without regret, he took his beloved old plaid coat, cut
it into strips and fashioned turbans for the chiefs squaws.
Dried salmon and deer's hearts miraculously appeared for
the next meals.
"Cap'n, after that trail we rode, I ain't rightly sure no
more that you're a careful man," Matt said, his mouth full
and bliss on his bearded face, "but you're plenty smart in
The Nez Perces laughed at the captain's shiny head and
named him Chief Bald Head.
"No enemy/' the chief said, "ever will wear your scalp
loclc at his belt."
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 123
When the explorers were rested enough to continue their
journey, the chief came leading a beautiful horse. Captain
Bonneville was pleased with the gift, but he knew that In-
dian custom demanded a return gift. All his trading goods
had been swept away down the Snake, but he handed the
chief a rifle. From the lodge an old squaw shuffled, tooth-
less and fat.
'This is my wife/' the chief said. "She loves this horse.
Her heart is sad to lose the horse/'
Benjamin hunted through the packs and found a pair of
earrings. The aged squaw put them in her ears and waddled
away trying to look young and flirtatious. The captain
changed his saddle to the new horse and started to mount.
"Wait," the chief said. "Here is my son. He broke this
horse to saddle. His heart is heavy from the loss of this very
A hatchet was presented to the young brave. The captain
mounted his gift horse.
"I love the bald-headed chief," the old man said. "His gift
will be my medicine. But without powder and lead, this rifle
will not bring home meat for my starving family/'
"Better put spurs to that there gift horse, Cap'n," Matt
said, grinning. "You're gittin' outtraded/'
Bonneville smiled. "Give him the powder and lead," he
ordered. "We must return gifts for the gift of the horse.
That's the Indian custom."
Our names are not on the tablets. Forget our names.
But when you drive on the roadj re-member us.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
Down the valley of the Walla Walla River, Captain
Bonneville rode with his men. At the Hudson's Bay trading
post, built at the confluence of the Walla Walla and Colum-
bia rivers, he found Factor Pambrun and a small force of
Englishmen. Mr. Pambrun entertained the Americans, but
he firmly refused the captain's request to buy supplies with
which to continue exploration down the Columbia.
"I am sorry," the factor said. "Personally I should like to
serve your needs. But it is not the policy of the company to
encourage the visits of American traders to this area/'
Bonneville was baffled and angry. 'That stops further
exploration for this year," he told Matt. "Without supplies
we would perish. There is nothing to do but return."
Back they rode into Nez Perce country. In a valley under
the Blue Mountains, the trappers rested with a band of the
friendly and hospitable Indians.
"You cannot cross the mountains now/' the Nez Percys
advised. "Snow is in drifts higher than the horses' heads.
A great wind blew."
"My friends," the captain answered, "we must cross. Our
hearts are big with determination. You Nez Perces, when
the way is hard, turn your back on trouble. An American
loves to win over difficulties. The bigger the obstacle, the
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 125
bigger his heart grows to meet danger. We will cross the
"Big words, Cap'n," Matt put in dryly, "but I seen them
drifts. Hundred feet high they is. No horse can git through/'
Benjamin laughed. "Why make trouble bigger? Ten feet
is more accurate."
"We'll never git acrost"
"Ah, but we will. It's drizzling, isn't it?"
"Sure is. But what goes with that?"
"Come, I'll show how we'll cross."
The resourceful captain had his men make two light sleds
and load them heavily with packs. In the rain and slush they
pulled the sleds on foot to the summit of the first barrier
"Now wait for the night freeze," Bonneville said. "In the
morning we can cross."
The plan worked. With ease they rode the horses over
an iced track to the summit. But the spring crust of snow on
the down slope was a glaze of ice too dangerous to descend.
"Make camp," the captain ordered. "We'll wait for the
afternoon sun to soften the crust enough to give foothold to
Working their way with many such delays, the little band
crossed the Blue Mountains and came down to the snow-
free Snake Plain. It was mid-April before they reached the
encampment on the Portneuf .
When the trapping season was over, the captain rode out
again, this time with all his trappers, bound for the rendez-
vous of 1834. He had set a meeting place for his men away
from the other companies, choosing the rich, grassy meadows
of the Bear River for the encampment.
During the march a scout came galloping back one day
126 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLB
to the main body of trappers, Indian squaws and Half-breed
"Blaclcfeet!" the scout reported. "A big band! A war party!
Too big for us. Well be wiped out."
The captain's mind worked fast to suggest a plan. "Gather
everybody together/' he shouted. "Make a lot of noise. Make
much dust. Make the Blackfeet think this is a big party."
Camp was set up in the midst of the wildest noise and
confusion, even the squaws joining in the deception. At
night hundreds of fires were lit to fool the Indians. The
whole camp remained prepared for action. The Blackfeet,
who never liked to attack unless sure of victory, were
frightened by the apparent size of the camp and skulked off
in the night.
The captain proceeded with his party to the Bear River,
where he found Joe Walker and the men who had explored
beyond the Big Salt Lake.
"Tell me about the lake, Joe," he said eagerly.
"Well, first, they ain't no River Buenaventura. We skirted
the north shore of Big Lake, and the fust river we come to
was way to the west Ogden's River." (The Humboldt to-
"Was there trapping? Did you get beaver plews?"
"Saw beaver sign near the lake. But Jim Bridger of the
Rocky Mountain had trapped the streams out."
"What's the country like beyond the lake?"
"Dry as a buffler bone after a Injun dog gits through
pickin*. Ogden's River disappears in a sink, jest like Godin's
River on Snake Plain. Injuns was pesky."
"Jest pesky. Root Diggers they is. Bad as Poor Devils, Eat
roots and seeds and insects. Ketch ants by puttin' a wet skin
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 127
over a anthill. Ants come pourin' out. Injuns shake 'em into
a sack and eat 'em 'thout even botherin' to cook 'em."
"Did the Indians make trouble?"
Joe Walker looked embarrassed. "They was so many of
'em, Cap'n. They followed us, and the band kep' gittin'
bigger V bigger. One day one of my men up and shot a red-
skinagainst orders. Injuns kep' doggin' us after that, threat-
enin' real trouble."
"You didn't attack them, did you?"
"Cap'n, we had to. They was so many, and we was few
in a mighty strange big country. Reckon mebbe we killed
about forty on 'em."
The good captain was disturbed at this violation of his
rule: never to attack. He held that if Indians were treated
fairly, they would remain friendly and helpful.
"That was wrong," he said. "They did not attack you,
"I know, Cap'n. But I figgered we had to git rid of 'ein.
They quit botherin' us after that."
"It was desert country, you say? Was it bad?"
"Bad, But we made it. Crossed the Great Basin and got
to the mountains. Found a river in the mountains and fol-
"Joe," Benjamin said in elation, "you're ^ e &*& white
man to cross that great desert basin. Settlers will someday
follow your trail to California."
"Don't know about that, Cap'n. I reckon I cant see far as
you do. But they's a piece of land I found out there that I'd
like to git the credit fer discoverin'. When I cross the last
blue mountain, I wish you'd see to it that they write over
my grave that it was me that was the first white man ever
seen that place."
"Tell me about it, Joe."
128 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
"Don't know as I rightly kin. Ain't got the words. We
crossed the wall of the Sierras, and them mountains was tig
and black, like death. Got lost in 'em. Had freezin' times,
starvin' times. And then Cap'n, we came out in this spot.
They was deep chasms with streams runnin' throughsnow
water streams. They went plungin' over the wall of a sheer
canyon. And a mile below they was mist a-risin'. By dog,
Cap'n, that valley well, it was it was some."
Joe's eyes held the same dreaming look of wonder that
Bonneville knew must light his own eyes when he saw new
and beautiful country. (Joe had discovered the valley of the
Yosemite.) He was silent a few moments before he continued
"We saw huge trees, Cap'n. Bigger and older 'n any man
could believe. And in them valleys on the other side, they's
grass and streams, TTiey's bear and antelope, deer and wild
fowl We got to the Pacific, and it's blue, like I heerd tell."
"Did you visit the Spanish settlements?"
"Yes, and them Spaniards is sure friendly only they got
so many horses they think nothin' of borrowin' yours and
fergittin' to bring 'em hack. Had to steal some of mine back."
"Did you find beaver?"
"Nary a beaver, Cap'n. I'm sorry. We wintered in the San
Joaquin Valley whist I got together horses and cows and flour
and corn and beans to git back here. Took a short cut and
got lost No water. No game. No grass. Nothin' but gray
desert. Sun burnin' hot. Had to keep the horses movin' or
they'd of laid down and died. They was days of that. Then
we hit our old trail and found grass and water. Fourth of
July come along, and we celebrated with our first buffalo
meat. That's all, Cap'n."
While Bonneville was pleased with Joe's discovery of a
shorter route to California, he was disheartened because he
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 129
had brought back no pelts. With half of the company not
producing, the gain for the second year would be smaller
than it had been for the first.
If only he had another year, Benjamin thought. Perhaps
when Michel came in with trading goods from the East, he
would bring new army orders granting another year. Eagerly
he waited for Cerre. But when that young man came in, the
captain was distressed to learn that the mail held no letter
from the Army.
"Did you take my papers to the War Department,
Michel?" he asked.
"I delivered them in person to the general in chief/'
"Did he read them? What did he say?"
"He glanced through them. And he seemed gratified with
"Did he say anything about wishing me to perservere in
the work I am doing?"
"I gathered that he wanted you to continue. He was most
flattering in praising what you already had accomplished.
He seemed to think that you had been of great service to
the United States."
"Then why did you bring me no letter from him? No
extension of my furlough? Why?"
Cerre seemed embarrassed. He flushed and refused to meet
the captain's keen, searching eyes. He began his explanation,
halting and stumbling over the words as if he hated to say
"The truth is, Captain I went to New York. I was sup-
posed to return to Washington for your furlough papers
but I I stayed so long in New York that I didn't have time
to go back to Washington. Surely your papers will be sent
you by another messenger."
Captain Bonneville was not only dismayed, but angered.
Michel Lad failed in an important duty. Six months it had
taken those papers to reach Washington. Now many more
months must pass before the extension of his furlough could
reach the West. Did he dare take another year without or-
ders to that effect? He glanced keenly at Cerr6, who was
looking even more embarrassed*
"You have something more to say, Cerr?" the captain
asked. "How did It happen that you had to spend so much
time in New York?"
Michel flushed. "I'd better tell you, Captain. I-I joined
up there with the American Fur Company. I filled out my
contract with you by bringing your trading goods to the
West. Now I am no longer of your party."
"But why, Michel? Why? Have I not been fair to you?"
"There could not be a fairer captain. But well you're just
too much interested in seeing new country to be the leader
of a profitable fur company. I'm sorry to leave you, but I
want to make my fortune. American Fur offered me good
wages. I took them. Now I go back to the East to do their
trading for them/*
Although the honest captain was hurt, he realized that
there was justice in Cerre's accusation. The Bonneville men
were not making money.
"Very well, Michel," he said. "I wish you success with
American Fur. I cross your name off my rolls with regret.
But will you take my report for this year back with you?
Deliver it to the general?"
"I I feel some delicacy in doing a mission for you when
I am now working for a rival company. But well, yes, I'll
do it for you to make up for my failure to bring back your
furlough. But I can't deliver your papers to Washington.
I'll mail them when I reach Council Bluffs."
With this promise Benjamin had to be satisfied. He made
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 131
out his reports and entrusted them to Genre's care. After long
consideration, lie Lad determined to accept die verbal report
concerning the satisfaction of the general in chief, accept
the statement that the furlough would be forthcoming. With
another year for exploration much important data could be
added to his report.
While his men traded and caroused, strutted and bragged
in the usual rendezvous style, Captain Bonneville sat in his
tent and added up the accomplishments of his two years. He
had taken the first wagons across the Rockies, opening the
way for settlers that might follow. He had built a useful fort
in the heart of the West. He had explored the Crow country
and the Great Snake Plain. He had discovered that the Snake
could not be followed into its mighty canyon and had
crossed the Wallowa Mountains in the dead of winter to
penetrate as far as the Columbia River. He had made friends
with many Indian tribes. He had drawn accurate maps and
sent detailed information concerning routes, water holes,
wood supplies and hostile Indians that the Army might have
to fight. Under his orders Joe Walker had scotched the myth
of the River Buenaventura and found a shorter route to
One exploration remained the Columbia River. An
American trading post to compete with the Hudson's Bay
Company should be established on that river. Bad luck and
the British company had thwarted his investigation of such
a possibility the winter before. This year, the captain de-
cided, he must try again. With luck he would succeed.
He entrusted his baled furs to Joe Walker for an overland
trip to St. Louis. Mindful of the good of his men, he ap-
pointed a trapper named Montero to lead a fur brigade into
the Crow country. Then, inspired to new ardor by the
verbal assurance from his commanding general, secure in
132 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
the knowledge that he was rendering service to his country,
Benjamin rode again toward the west with the twenty-three
men who had volunteered to go to the coast with him.
The Bonneville men followed the Snalce River again,
riding the hills and gullies of the sagebrush desert over
which the Oregon Trail was later to crawl. It was July and
the salmon run was on. Indian bands patrolled the river,
spearing from its green depths the bright salmon to dry or
smoke for winter food.
One day when they were nearing the country in which
the Snake makes its bend to the north, the captain sniffed
smoke-filled air. He turned to Matt Beers, who was riding
"Smoke, Matt It would take a lot of Indian signals to
make that much smoke."
Matt shook his head. "Not Injun smoke, Cap'n. Them
clouds of smoke we're headin' for is from some sagebrush
plain burnin*. Sun's powerful enough today to fire green
The hot, dry air soon grew so murky that they could
scarcely see the contours of the hills ahead. The low sun
was a huge fiery ball glaring through the canopy of the
smoke. At night when they camped, the skies to the west
glowed a lurid red far above the western horizon.
"Mebbe we'd better turn back, Cap'n," Matt suggested.
"We got to head right into that tomorrow."
"No. The Grande Ronde is not far ahead. There is green
grass there, they say. The valley should be safe from fire."
But the Grande Ronde Valley, when they reached it, was
a sea of flame, the long grass afire, the pines of the southern
slopes ablaze. The northern exposures seemed free of fire.
"Head for those south mountains," the captain shouted
to his men. "Ride!"
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 133
Galloping through air hot and thick with smoke, the trap-
pers reached the shelter of the mountain slope. They skirted
its hase, watching the fire below with scorched eyes that
streamed with irritation.
When they finally reached the Columbia River, Captain
Bonneville sent scouts out to search for a pass through the
mountains to the Willamette River. The scouts returned with
reports of worse fires. Whole forests were ablaze, they said*
Towering columns of smoke shot up to crown in the treetops.
Pines crashed in the gullies and canyons.
"We'll have to wait until the fire burns itself out/' the
captain said. Disheartened, he added, "This delay is going
to use up all our extra supplies. We may never get to the
"Why not try the Hudson's Bay Company again?" Matt
asked. "Mebbe this year Pambrun will sell to us."
"By all means, try, Matt. Take another man and ride back
to Fort Walla Walla. But I fear it will be useless."
Matt returned in a few days. "We was feasted," he told
the captain grimly, "but he wouldn't sell us nothinV And,
Cap'n, that there Pambrun tried to git us to jine Hudson's
Bay. Offered us right temptin* wages."
"What ad you say?"
Matt grinned. "Tole him I was an American. Tole him I
kind of liked my own country and my own captain."
Gratified and heartened by the loyalty of his men, Benja-
min said, "We'll try a march down the Columbia. Perhaps
the Indians will trade with us."
The fire was behind them now, and the rolling hills
through which they rode were beautiful. But the Indians
refused to trade.
"Them Injuns jest skulk off soon as we git near," Matt
134 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
The captain found a lone Cayuse Indian one day and
held him in talk.
"Why will you not sell us food?" he asked. "My men
are starving. We have goods to trade."
"No trade/' the Cayuse answered sullenly.
The Indian shook his head, looking frightened. "Pamtrun
say No. He no trade with us if we give you food. Pambrun
talk with angry tongue. He say we not talk to you."
Pamhrun again, the captain thought. The Hudson's Bay
Company was indeed powerful in the land. Longingly he
looked down the blue Columbia that invited him on to the
sea. But his men were starving. High mountains barred the
way to the Pacific. And even if they could cross the moun-
tains, the British company was even stronger in the country
beyond. Supplies for the winter would be refused the Ameri-
can interlopers. Hating failure, the captain reluctantly gave
up his dream of reaching the Pacific. The forest fires had
defeated him. And now the lives of his men were more
important than the dream.
"We 11 have to go back/' he told his men. "In the Blue
Mountains there will be elk and deer. We'll dry jerky for
the trip across the Snake Plain/'
But there was no game in the mountains, for the fire had
driven off all the animals. Killing a horse or two for food,
the Bonneville men toiled on through the blackened ruins
of once beautiful forests. On the Snake at last, they caught
salmon, bloated and torpid, after their long ascent of the
"Meat's meat, even if it's nigh dead fish/' Matt said.
Thin and weary from the long ride and scanty food, the
men came at last to the winter encampment on the upper
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 135
"Starvin' times is over/' Matt said one day. "Look up thai
on the mountain/'
Captain Bonneville saw a dark cloud swooping over the
summit and down its side. The deep bellow of bulls sounded
in the still air. Crashing through the underbrush, immense
herds of buffalo came thundering down the mountain.
"Buffalo!" he exclaimed. "They must be running from
Indian hunters on the other side of the mountains."
The snows came and the herds were trapped in the valley
near the encampment. To kill and feast became the daily
pleasure of the camp.
"No horse or mule meat this winter," the men said. "Na
muskrats or wolves in our stew."
Wolves came, however, and ravens and magpies. At every
shot scavenger birds rose in black clouds over the valley,
and wolves sat at the edges of timber to wait until the trap-
pers butchered buffalo. Then in swarms gray shadows and
black came to strip the carcasses.
The winter passed in plenty and comfort. Spring came
and it was time for the captain to go to his last trappers'
rendezvous. On the Wind River he met Montero and his
brigade. It was the Fourth of July and the men celebrated
with feating and games.
"Our venture is over," the captain regretfully told his
gathered men. "Those who wish to do so may return with
me. But if you wish to stay in the West and trap, the Ameri-
can Fur or the Rocky Mountain will be glad to get good
men. The Bonneville men are now disbanded."
Sadly he parted with many of his men, knowing that he
said good-by to loyal friends. The next morning, with the
men who had chosen to accompany him, he turned his face
toward the east and his back upon the wild freedom of his
136 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
three years as trapper and explorer. He was glad that Joe,
who had returned from St. Louis, rode with him.
Days later the captain halted his horse atop a hill to take
his last look at the Rockies. In sad farewell he gazed long
at the hlue and distant uplift The mountains, he thought,
would keep deep in their serene fastnesses all the joys of his
freedom, such freedom as he never again might know. Those
living summits would hide the secret valleys he had known,
the dark canyons, the great rolling sagebrush deserts. The
mountains would hold fast in their mighty hearts the eve-
ning campfires, the laugh and swagger and song about the
flames, the companionship with good and faithful men whom
he had loved in spite of their rough crudities. None of his
trappers would he ever forget, he promised himself. The
loyal Matt Beers, Irish Tom Cain, Buckeye the Delaware,
even Michel Cerr all had been strong men, good to know.
The mountains might hold fast the adventures of his
young manhood, the captain thought, but memories could
ride with him always. And there would be other adventures,
other freedoms. The life of a soldier was full of chance and
I would not turn from the thunderclap . . .
And the drums of defeat "before me.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
When Captain Bonneville rode into Independence,
Missouri, in August of 1835, he was shocked to learn that
he was no longer an officer in the United States Army.
For some mysterious reason his furlough had not been
extended. His second report, which Cerre had promised to
mail, had never reached the War Department. The captain
had no blame for Michel. Papers that made the long, danger-
ous journey to the East took many chances. They might be
lost in an Indian raid or swept down some swift river after
the capsizing of a bullboat. In some way the papers had been
lost. And when no word came out of the mysterious West,
die Army had assumed the captain dead. The name of Ben-
jamin Louis Eulalie Bonneville had been dropped from the
army lists. Unless he could clear his name, the adventurous
life of a soldier was over for him.
Mortified and sick at heart, he knew that, trained as he
was to the military life, he did not wish to live without that
life. The Army was his occupation, his existence.
"My name is disgraced," he told Joe Walker, who had
ridden to Independence with him. "I must go back to face
"Why?" Joe asked. "You was explorin* for the Army
gettin' information for them. I guessed that."
"That may help me. But I've been absent without leave
for two years. The Army will not excuse that."
"Shucks, then you kin ride back to the Green with me
trap for another year/'
"No, Joe. I must clear my name. I'll go Lack to Washing-
tonput up a fight/' The captain smiled wryly. "This is
going to he worse than any hattle with hostile redskins, I
must 'prepare for attack/ Joe/'
"One thing you kin tell 'em you never lost a man when
you was in command. I lost some, and so did your other
partisans. We wasn't shucks to you, Cap'n, when it come to
caution and outwittin' Injuns/'
Benjamin smiled. "I doubt the effectiveness of that argu-
ment, Joe. It will matter little to the Army that I kept my
"Matters to me, Cap'n. Matters to all them men that's
still wearin' topknots. Ain't many leaders kin say nary a man
under him got sculped. You was a good leader, Cap'n."
'We saw a lot of wild America anyway. Nothing can take
that from me/'
"Sure was some, Cap'n. Comes time you're wantin' to
explore some more, I'm your man."
The captain was a little ashamed of his unmanly tears
as he said good-by to Joe Walker. Joe was a man of in-
tegrity, a faithful friend he would never forget.
Captain Bonneville bought clothing to replace his soiled
and worn buckskins. He had his beard trimmed and clipped.
Then, feeling shorn and stiff, he boarded the steamer for
Pittsburgh. He had learned that Thomas had been lost at
ea, and the grieving captain wanted to visit his mother, who
still was living in St. Louis. But he dared not take the time.
On his way to Washington, he reported to his backers in
New York City and found that his expedition had not been
a financial success. Very little money would come to him as
his share. But there would be enough perhaps to see him
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 139
through his troubles with the Army. If he could not win
reinstatement but he would not allow himself to think of
At a meeting of his backers he saw an old man, bent and
feeble, swathed in furs, as if in spite of the warmth of the
room he felt cold.
"Who is that old gentleman?" Bonneville asked the mail
seated next to him.
The man looked surprised. "Don't you know? That's John
Jacob Astor the old man of the fur trade. He's been piling
up money in furs since 1810. He fought a losing battle with
the government to keep the American flag flying over Astoria.
Then when his Northwest Company failed, old Astor started
up the American Fur Company/*
"I know his story. But why is he here at this meeting?"
"Oh, he probably had some money in your enterprise.
That's the way he works. Likes to stick a finger in every fuf
After the meeting the old man approached Benjamin.
"Come with me, Captain Bonneville," Mr. Astor said sur-
prisingly. "There is plenty of room at Hell Gate for an
overnight guest from the West. You shall tell of your ex-
peditionof all the unexplored regions. It pleases me such
stories to hear."
Tucked in a carriage under fur robes, for the fall day was
chilly, they rode to Hell Gate on the sound. Broad lawns
littered with the scarlet and gold of autumn leaves swept
down to the East River. At the sumptuous Astor dinner table,
Captain Bonneville met a man he had longed to know, a man
cultured and genial, whose eyes were warm with good
"This is the famous Washington Irving, Captain," Mr.
140 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Astor said. "His tales of Rip Van Winkle and of Ichabod
Crane are the talk of all America/'
"Even in the frontier post of Fort Gibson, Mr. Irving/*
the captain said, "we soldiers read and chuckled over your
"Ah, Fort Gibson"? I visited there in the fall of 1832 when
I toured the western prairies. Beautifuly country on the
"Mr. Irving is modest/' John Jacob Astor said. "He does
not tell you that he has written his experiences in a book
A Tour of the Prairies."
"I shall read it with avidity, Mr. Irving," Bonneville said,
bowing. "Each new book of yours is an experience to which
I look forward/'
"Ah, that book is nothing to the one I arn writing now
with the help of Mr. Astor. I shall call it Astoria, for it is the
story of that trading venture. Mr. Astor has kindly lent me
his vast collection of documents concerning the Oregon
country. Perhaps you will add to that material with an ac-
count of some of your own experiences, Captain?*'
"I shall do my best, sir/'
Later Washington Irving wrote of that dinner conversa-
I addressed numerous questions to him [the captain]. They drew from
him a number of striking details, which were given with mingled modesty
and frankness; and in a gentleness of manner, and a soft tone of voice,
contrasting singularly with the wild and often startling nature of his
themes. It was difficult to conceive the mild, quiet-looking personage be-
fore you, the actual hero of the stirring scenes related.
Captain Bonneville left the next day for Washington.
Here he was granted an interview with General Abram
Eustas, the new general in chief. The captain explained the
reasons for his two years' absence, tried to account for the
failure of his second report to reach Washington, attempted
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 141
to prove that his first report had been received and verbally
approved by General MacComb.
"There are no papers in the files/' General Eustas said
"They have been lost then, sir, or misplaced. Captain
Samuel Cooper remembers that the report was received and
is willing to testify to that effect. My orders were to furnish
the War Department with desired information respecting
the Rocky Mountains and the Oregon country. I remained
in the West to carry out those orders. I thought I was doing
my duty in serving my country, sir/'
The general was firm. "It was your duty as an officer to
return when your furlough expired, sir." He hesitated and
then added a concession. "You may write another report
outlining your activities in the West and stating your reasons
for asking reinstatement/'
Encouraged, the captain wrote a long report of his three
years of exploration. He ended it with a plea for fair con-
sideration of his case:
Judge then, upon my return to die settlements, . . . what must have
been my mortification, . . . when I learned of the . . . loss of my com-
mission which I held dearer than life.
Trained at the Military Academy, I tecame as it were identified with
the Army; 'twas my soul, my existence, my only happiness and at a time
when I was exerting every nerve to win the approbation of my superiors,
I find myself branded as a culprit, 'tis mortifying indeed, my character
as a Soldier has been fair too long, to believe that my superiors will hesi-
tate one moment to restore my character and rank.
His plea was met with cold courtesy and firm refusal
Without friends in his discouragement, he thought of his
patron Thomas Paine, remembering words about fighting
for one's rights. He hunted up a copy of Paine's The Crisis
and found words similar to the advise his friend had once
142 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from
disaster, and grow brave in reflection. Tis the business of little minds to
shrink; but he whose heart is firm and whose conscience approves his
conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.
Disaster had struck, Bonneville thought. Now he must
smile and grow brave. His conscience told him that he had
been right in taking the time to continue gathering informa-
tion. Now he must fight for his rights. He asked for an
interview with President Andrew Jackson. Jackson was an
old Indian fighter, a frontiersman. "Old Hickory" would
understand the necessity for exploration and mapping of the
"Let me see your maps, Mr. Bonneville/' Andrew Jackson
The maps were produced. The President ran his fingers
through his shock of unruly hair, lit his old corncob pipe
and sat down to study Benjamin's journal and maps.
"These are the best maps of the West that I have seen/'
he said* "They seem to be the first maps that put the rivers
and mountains in their right places. For these maps alone;
you deserve reinstatement. I shall see that they are published,
and they will be the first published maps of the West. Tell
me of your travels of what you found that might be useful
to this country/'
Plain Benjamin Bonneville talked, and the President's
flattering attention made him think that he might have
talked himself back into his captaincy.
"I believe that you have served your country, sir," the
President said. "I shall take the matter of your reinstatement
to the Senate. It will be a battle, but I like battles."
The months of waiting dragged on, and Benjamin em-
ployed the time in going over his notes, trying to assemble
order from the mass of material. His room was decorated with
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 143
Indian trophies and the skins of bear and deer and moun-
tain sheep. There Washington Irving found him at work at
a big table spread with maps and papers.
"Your task looks hopeless, Mr. Bonneville," Irving said,
smiling at the obvious confusion and distress.
"It is hopeless, sir, and I am hopeless. I fear I am more
suited to the rude life of the soldier, although that life is still
forbidden me. Writing is not one of the skills of the rough
Washington Irving's eyes gleamed. An idea for a new
book had been born.
"Give me your notes," he said. "Let me write them into
a book. I shall call it The Adventures of Captain Bonne-
"I should be delighted to give you both notes and journal,
sir. You may have them as soon as the Senate and the Army
are through with them."
Doggedly, Bonneville fought on for his reinstatement.
Winter passed and summer came and still the matter was
not settled. For a man accustomed to the wilderness, the
eastern cities were too crowded, too full of life and people.
He thought of the vast clean spaces of the West. He remem-
bered the scent of sagebrush after rain, the spicy fragrance
of pine campfires, the cold, pure lift of mountain air. He
would return to the West, he decided. At least he would go
as far as St. Louis to visit his mother. The matter of his rein-
statement was out of his hands now. He had done what he
could. The decision rested with the Senate.
In St. Louis he found his mother well, although she had
aged. They had a happy month together, and celebrated
joyfully when the news of vindication reached them in
August of 1836. By order of the Senate and the President
of the United States, Benjamin Bonneville was once more
J44 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
a captain in the Sixth Infantry, with orders to report to Fort
Gibson for service. He had won his fight. The Bonneville
name was cleared.
By September he was back in Fort Gibson on the lowlands
of the Grand River. Around the fort stretched the dark green
wall of the canebrake, growing sometimes thirty or forty feet
high. After rains the stagnant water collected to breed
mosquitoes and the consequent malaria. Quarters even
those in which the officers livedwere insufferable, their
walls rotting, roofs leaking.
Benjamin had looked forward to a welcome from his
brother officers. Eagerly he had anticipated relating his ad-
ventures; but when he began a tale, his companions became
coldly polite, strangely silent. The frank, honest captain did
not understand their attitude. Puzzled, he finally blamed
their unfriendliness on the fact that both soldiers and officers
at Fort Gibson were ill and unhappy. They spent their time
in drinking and fighting. Sometimes there were killings.
Frequently there were desertions, and the captain would be
assigned to scour the canebrakes to hunt down the deserters.
Colonel Arbuckle was severe; if the men were found, they
were sentenced to fifty lashes, six months at hard labor, or
sixty days in a cell on bread and water.
"Poor devils," the captain said to a fellow officer one day
as they rode back with some wretched prisoners. "You can't
blame them. Living here is like being in prison. Fort Gibson
is the meanest, most unhealthful spot in the United States/'
"No cause for you to grouse," said the major, who had
once been a friend. "You got yourself well out of this mess
for three years. Smart move on your part, Bonneville that
trapping expedition; But don't expect us to like you now. If
the officers at Fort Gibson had been listened to, you'd never
have been reinstated. Not an officer here was for you. n
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 145
Benjamin was startled and Kurt, but lie now knew the
reason for the brutal unldndness of the other officers: they
were bitterly envious of him. At first he was angry. Then he
remembered the words of Thomas Paine: "Hatred is the
part of little minds." The captain decided that he would not
return hatred with malice. He would live each day in the
practice of courtesy and kindness, hoping that envy and
enmity would fade after a time.
The bitterness of his fellows did not abate, however, and
Captain Bonneville was glad when he was ordered in 1838
to take his company to Forth Smith to begin the repair of
the buildings there. The unhealthful Fort Gibson was to be
abandoned. Since the Cherokee were troublesome, Fort
Smith was to be rebuilt with a strong wall of stone and brick.
Before the work was finished, Bonneville was ordered to
Florida with the Sixth Infantry to fight against the Seminole
Indians, who were refusing to leave their homes and go to
the Indian Territory. Riding to Florida, he hoped that work-
ing with Indians would be like the times he had spent with
the Indians of the West. But this campaign was not like old
times, for now he was hunting Indians out of their homes
deep in the Everglades in order to force them to move to
strange lands they did not want. The gentle captain who
loved freedom could feel only deep sympathy for the
The very name Seminole meant "wild." And these In-
dians, he learned, had deserted fertile lands in Georgia to
keep their freedom by hiding themselves deep in the swamps
of Florida. The United States had fought intermittent war
with this tribe since 1818, and this new outburst of effort
to move them already had lasted for more than four years,
taken many lies, and cost the government millions of dol-
lars. A stubborn thousand Seminole had held off all regi-
146 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
merits sent against them. Now, decreased in number, they
fought stubbornly to defend their villages.
Captain Bonneville's soldiers laughed at the Seminole
men, who wore skirts to the middle of their calves and
brightly striped shirts with immense sleeves.
"We can lick these 'squaws* in no time/' the soldiers said.
The captain smiled. "My knowledge of Indians tells me
that what they wear makes little difference. Fighting an
Indian is never easy."
The troopers soon found that he was right. The "squaw
warriors" were skilled with the how and arrow and accurate
with the long rifle of the frontiersman. They were adept at
fighting on their sun-haked flats, quick to get away into the
swamps in their canoes carved from cypress logs.
The captain secretly admired the courage of the Seminole,
though he could not understand why any people should fight
to remain in the steaming cypress swamps and the palmetto
barrens. But the Everglades was home to the Seminole, and
the captain felt the cruelty of forcing them to leave. He was
so sorry for every batch of prisoners he sent to the waiting
ships on the coast that he was thankful when he was trans-
ferred to the recruiting service.
On duty at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, he met sweet Ann
Lewis, daughter of Dr. Charles Lewis of Virginia. The
hardy soldier-explorer had found little time in his life for any
romance other than adventure. Now, talking with Ann,
listening to her slow, soft southern speech, he knew that he
liad been a lonely man.
Tin a soldier, Ann," he told her. Tm likely to be sent
back to Arkansas or Oklahoma at any time. I'd ask you to
marry me, but life on a frontier outpost is not such that I
could ask a woman to share it"
Ann laughed at him. "If you are sent back to the West,
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 147
Benjamin well, I tKink I'd like being a soldier's wife, even
at Fort Smith. I'll follow my captain."
They were married in 1842, and Ann went with her
captain to assignments in Louisiana and Mississippi, Their
happiness was intensified when a daughter was born a year
"What shall we name her?" Ann asked. "I would choose
the name Mary."
"Mary it shall be," the captain agreed. "But for a second
name, let us call her Irving after my good friend Washington
The book that Washington Irving had promised to write,
The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, had been published
in 1837. He had sent an autographed copy to the captain,
and it was favorite reading in the Bonneville household.
"It will be good to have our girl bear Washington Irving's
name," Ann said. "She will feel so proud when she reads
the book that makes such a hero out of her father."
"I was no hero, Ann. Only a greenhorn at the fur trade.
But if the furs brought me no fortune, at least exploring
brought me adventure enough to last a lifetime."
In 1845 Captain Bonneville experienced another great
adventure: he felt the tiny weak hand of a son curl about
one of his own big brown fingers.
"Let us call him Nicolas after my father," Benjamin said
to Ann. He looked down at the small red face. "For my son
I shall pray that he may be as fortunate as I have been. I
dreamed and I lived my dream. May he have that same
good luck! Well, adventuring is over for me. But perhaps
my son will have enough adventure for both of us."
There was to be no adventure for the baby Nicolas except
that of living for one short month. But for the father adven-
ture was not over. He was still to see strange, wild lands.
The science of war is moving men like blocks.
"Manifest Destiny' was a term on every American
tongue in the Forties. The people believed that it was the
manifest destiny of this country to extend its borders from
the Atlantic to the Pacific, from at least the forty-ninth
parallel to the Rio Grande.
By 1845 five thousand American settlers, following the
example of Captain Bonneville, had driven wagons over the
lift of the Rockies. They had pushed on across the Great
Snake Plain and over the Blue Mountains to build cabins
from the logs of the great forests of the Oregon country and
to drive plowshares through the rich virgin soil of its river
bottoms. The Santa Fe Trail had opened the Mexican town
of Santa Fe to American trade. Los Americanos, welcomed
in New Mexico and California, were talking of adding those
regions to the United States. Thousands of land-hungry
pioneers had left the Mississippi Valley and crossed the
Sabine and the Red rivers to settle in Mexican Texas.
These American Texans had declared their independence
of Mexico, and that angered nation had sent Antonio Lopez
de Santa Anna, its president, to lead Mexican troops across
the Rio Grande. A frail little man with a big head and a
smooth tongue, he was both shrewd and cruel. At the Alamo
in San Antonio, he had trapped and massacred over one
hundred and eighty Texans. At Goliad he had murdered
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 149
three hundred Texan prisoners in cold blood. Texas had
fought in earnest then for its freedom and had become a
separate nation, the Lone Star Republic, under President
In 1845 Texas was admitted as a state to the Union. But
Mexico still considered this vast area hers and war threat-
ened. Santa Anna marched again. American blood was shed
on what this country now claimed as American soil. In May,
1846, the United States declare war on Mexico.
Three American armies were to work a pincers movement
on Mexico. General Zachary Taylor crossed the Rio Grande
into the northern provinces of Mexico. Colonel Stephen W.
Kearney was ordered to invade New Mexico, take Santa Fe
and move on to California. From Santa Fe, Kearney was to
send out part of his army to cross the Jornada del Muerte
(Journey of Death) and advance on the Mexican city of
Chihuahua. From San Antonio, five hundred miles inland
from the Gulf of Mexico, General Wool was to push through
the center and join Doniphan for the attack on Chihuahua.
Bonneville, a major now, was ordered to join Wool at
San Antonio. He said good-by to Ann and his little daughter.
He hated to leave Ann, who was grieving over the death of
their baby son. But the major was glad to be riding the trail
once more through country new and strange.
Through the long miles of heat and swirling dust, cactus
and chaparral, he rode at the head of his battalion to San
Antonio. It was a Mexican town of crumbling adobe houses
as brown as the earth from which they were made, a part
of that earth. Outside the sun-baked village the sprawling
army camp was in disorder.
"Worst I've ever seen/' said one of the officers. "Supplies
are short have to be brought all the way from the Gulf.
150 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Most of these men are green soldiers impatient to start
fighting when they don't know how. They're rankly in-
"We'll soon lick them into shape," Major Bonneville said.
"Didn't you hear General Wool's orders for drill and more
"I heard. Also orders for daily shaving even on the march.
And yesterday Old Granny Wool reprimanded me for swear-
ing. Pious old soul, isn't he?"
"Perhaps. He's ironhanded, but that's what this green
army needs. We can't expect him to spare his officers when
he never spares himself. We'll soon have order here/'
When the army was an orderly fighting unit, orders were
given for the march on Chihuahua. To the Rio Grande they
rode, singing the popular song of the newly begun war:
Oh, say were you ever in the Rio Grande?
Way, you Rio!
It's there that the river runs goHen sand.
For we're bound to the Rio Grande.
And away, you Rio!
Way, you Rio!
Riding with the army as interpreter was an old Santa Fe
trader who interested Major Bonneville. Dr. Josiah Gregg,
grumpy in manner and acid in speech, rode calmly along on
his old gray mule. His tanned face was tinged rosy by the
shade of the big red parasol he carried against the heat of
the broiling sun. Keen eyes glanced with eager curiosity here
"Dr. Gregg isn't missing much," the major said to a young
engineer, a graduate of West Point, Captain Robert E. Lee.
"No doubt Dr. Gregg will put us all in another book/'
Lee said. "Have you read his Commerce of the Prairies'?"
"I've read it. The man has a bitter tongue. But he knows
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 151
the Santa Fe Trail of which he writes. He's seen the South-
westa land IVe always longed to see/*
The Rio Grande was swift and deep, but in San Antonio
Captain Lee and other engineers had constructed the parts
for a pontoon bridge. All across the wild and barren country
the parts had been hauled in wagons. Now Captain Lee
dashed about on his horse ordering the bridge put together.
During the three-day wait, the army of eighteen hundred
men bathed in the muddy river or gleefully sharpened Icnives,
swords and bayonets while they watched the other side of
the river for the Mexicans they longed to fight.
"Three lone Mexicans/ 1 Major Bonneville reported to
General Wool one morning. "They've been waving a white
flag from the other side. They say the mayor of Presidio
invites you into his town/'
"The Mexican soldiers fled when they saw us coming,
Unmolested the Army of the Center rode to the stone
gates of Presidio del Rio Grande, but the general halted
them outside near gardens of sugar cane and fig trees on the
edge of boggy land.
"Don't molest any of the Mexicans/' Bonneville told his
men, passing on the orders of General Wool,
After a rest they marched southward to Monclova. High
mountains rose ahead of them; and when they had to circle
through valley after valley to miss the heights, Major Bonne-
ville remembered the Wind River Mountains he could not
cross. Everywhere they rode, the Mexican people, eager to
make friends with the white invaders, brought gifts of cake
and fruit and corn.
"These Mexicans seem a kindly, happy people," the major
152 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
said to Lee. "I like the music of their quick speech, the lilt
and melody of their songs/'
Beyond the mountains the army entered an arid region
of salty ground.
"Scoop holes in the soil/' the major told his men. "Wait
a few minutes and water will seep in."
Coffee and sugar gave out and there was little wood for
cooking fires. The men grumbled.
"You do not complain, Major/' Asked Josiah Gregg. "Not
even at daily shaving. Our general is a bit of an old woman
to insist on the amenities in arid land like this/'
"I've traveled through worse, Dr. Gregg. To the Columbia
across the Great Snake Plain. Trapping, I was."
"So you're that Bonneville, eh? I've heard about you. I,
too, am an old traveler in the West. Made my first trip to
Santa Fe in 1831. Four trips altogether."
The major smiled. "Starvin' times, sweatin' times, Dr.
"But not freezin' times here," Josiah Gregg said, and the
two men, old at trailing, smiled at the familiar trapper words.
At Monclova General Wool studied his maps. The rest of
the way to Chihuahua lay over the Bols6n de Mapimi, a
gray wasteland plateau five to ten thousand feet in altitude.
He called in Benjamin Bonneville.
"You've had some experience with wagons in desert
places, Major? Can wagons cross this plateau?"
"Perhaps we could get them across, sir, although the
natives say the plateau is impassable. But our wagons have
already traveled almost nine hundred miles. They would
fall to pieces in the high, dry air of the Bols6n. They say
there are lakes and ponds of standing water to cross in places,
as well as deep gullies; Although I think we could get
across, we would have no wagons left, sir/'
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 153
General Wool sent a message to General Taylor, asking
permission to detour the Mapimi to Parras, from wliicli a
good road led to Chihuahua. Permission received, the army
marched across deserts and rugged mountains to pitch their
gray tents early in December near a town of gardens and
vineyards. Through its narrow, crooked streets ran streams
of clean water to delight desert-weary soldiers. The men
were kept drilling and parading for four weeks, but they
were allowed in town for amusement during their hours off.
On Christmas Day Major Bonneville was roaming through
the markets to buy delicacies for his men. General Wool,
with staff and escort, rode clattering into town. Aides and
men scurried through streets and markets shouting orders.
"Soldiers, to the camp instantly! Urgent!"
"What's up?" the major asked Captain Lee, as the two
officers galloped back to camp.
"Santa Anna again, I hear. He's on his way to attack
troops left at Saltillo while Taylor moves to the coast,"
"Tough on the men. No Christmas dinner for them."
Back in camp the major issued orders to march to Saltillo
to re-enforce the troops there.
"Prepare for attack," he said before he thought, and then
smiled as he remembered the many times he had said those
"Aw, Major, on Christmas Day?" the men grumbled. "We
just got the turkeys' heads cut off."
Leaving roosters tied to tent poles and turkeys hanging
headless, the disgruntled soldiers marched out to battle. But
the Mexican attack fizzled. Santa Anna, informed of the size
of the force marching against him, retreated to his base.
Back to Saltillo rode General Zachary Taylor on his horse
Old Whitey, which he exchanged at times for a yellow mule.
"Old Rough and Ready" looked calm enough in his com-
154 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
fortable blue-checked gingham shirt, his light blue fatigue
overalls and old straw hat; but the general was seething
inside. At the coast he had received orders from General-in-
Chief Winfield Scott. Taylor was politely requested to send
his most gallant officers and most of his regular and volunteer
soldiers to make up an army for an attack on the coastal city
of Vera Cruz. Among those who rode to Tampico and the
ships waiting in the Gulf of Mexico were Major Bonneville
and Captain Robert E. Lee.
"Well, we never reached Chihuahua/' Lee said as they
rode. "Wool will never march there now/'
"Perhaps our march was a failure/' the major said, "but
we now have an efficient army, trained for what lies ahead."
On the tenth day of riding, they saw a confusion of masts
and spars in a harbor with the American flag floating above
naval vessels. The troops embarked in a howling norther
for the Lobos Islands. The major, watching the strange sights
with eager interest, thrilled to see the masts of a hundred
ships at anchor behind a sandy coral island. He sniffed the
breeze of the island, a breeze fragrant with the scent of wild
oranges, lemons and limes. From the anchored ships he
could hear the music of drum and fife and bugle as the
naval bands played 'Tankee Doodle" and "Hail, Columbia."
On March 2, 1847, the entire fleet plowed through blue
waters to Vera Cruz, City of the True Cross, where the
fortified gray ramparts of the castle of San Juan de Ulua
guarded the harbor. To the west Benjamin, always sensitive
to beauty, saw the sixteen white domes of Vera Cruz gleam-
ing red in sunset light across an arid plain surrounded by
the sand hills of die beach,
"We're to reduce the town before we take Uliia," he told
his officers, issuing orders for his men to board the small
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 155
craft with the other troops. "You'll Be landed on the beach
to the north or south of the city/*
To the major, whose only experience with war had been
the long march and the Indian attack, all now seemed con-
fusion and noise. Men sang and cheered. Dispatch boats
darted about the harbor to carry messages from ship to ship.
National airs blared from every vessel. But the landing was
orderly enough. The guns of Ulua and of the Navy thun-
dered. Shells from American gunboats drove back Mexican
cavalry lined up on the shores. The landing boats grated on
His heart beating fast with excitement, Major Bonneville
leaped out of his boat. Holding his musket high, he waded
at the head of his men to the shore. The American flag was
planted on the dunes. Cheers and shouts rose from the
landed troops and from the ships. Before midnight one hun-
dred thousand men were on the beach.
"Eat your pork and biscuits/' he told his battalion. "Then
there is work to do/'
For thirteen miserable days and nights the troops labored
to complete the surrounding of the city. With his men the
major wallowed up and down the sand hills in sultry heat,
with scanty drinking water, hacked his way through forests
of matted and prickly chaparral, and slept, when he could
snatch a few hours, with chiggers boring under the skin,
fleas and sand flies biting. Most of the work had to be done
after dark, for the guns of the city raked the sands during
the day. In skirmish after skirmish the major led his men
against the desperate Mexican soldiers.
On the fifth day another violent norther whirled down
with chill wind and blasting dust to blow away whole sand
hills and cut tents to tatters. The work, though slowed, con-
tinued in the murky cold. Supplies were brought up and
JS6 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
breastworks and batteries were constructed by the engineers.
They were ready now for the storming of Vera Cruz.
"Sweet music your batteries," Bonneville said to Captain
Lee over the opening roar of the cannon.
"Hard work to get them set up/' Lee answered. "The men
call them our 'faithful bulldogs/ Listen to the guns from
the ships. I'd hate to be in Vera Cruz right now/'
"I know. We have to kill Mexican soldiers, but I regret
the death of women and children/'
Two columns of smoke rose from inside the city. Walls
"Two hits/' the major said. "We'll get them back no
doubt, with good measure/'
Guns blazed in answering spurts of fire from the city
walls. Cannon balls crashed among the American soldiers.
Men screamed and died. Major Bonneville felt his helpless-
ness. No wit, no caution of his own, could save the men
under his command here.
For five days and nights the battle roared. But on March
27, Vera Cruz, bombarded by the shore batteries and the
naval guns of the ships, surrendered. The fort of Ulua
yielded without battle.
Two days later, on a dreamy morning as warm as summer,
Major Bonneville rode into the city with his battalion. Gen-
eral Scott, six feet four, erect and majestic in his most
elaborate uniform of gold-striped blue, paraded at the head
of his army. The Stars and Stripes floated over the plaza.
Vera Cruz, the site of the long-ago landing of the Spaniard
Cortes, was now in American hands.
And then it was tiger summer.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
Summer comes early in the steaming lowlands of
Mexico, bringing the miasmic mists that breed mosquitoes
and the dread yellow fever. The Army could not remain
long in Vera Cruz.
War plans were succeeding for the Americans. Kearney,
a general after his bloodless possession of New Mexico, had
moved on to seize California for the United States. Colonel
Doniphan and his tough Missouri volunteers now held Chi-
huahua, the end of the traders' trail from Santa Fe. General
Taylor had won a rousing victory over Santa Anna, securing
for the United States the northern provinces of Mexico and
for himself a chance at the presidency of the United States
as thanks from a hero-loving American people. The last step
in the pincers movement was to be General Scott's march on
"When do we march?" Major Bonneville asked Captain
Lee, who was a great favorite with the pompous Scott and
always had the news.
"Early in April Ahead of us, they say, the road leads west
across the mountains to the central plateau/ 1
"And we go through a narrow, rugged pass. And then
there's the fortified village Cerro Gordo, I've heard what
lies ahead of us."
"Have you heard the worst? That old wild cat Santa Anna
158 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
has been elected president of Mexico again, and he's on his
way to the pass with eighteen thousand troops/*
"Not a pleasant prospect. We have only eighty-five hun-
dred men* Ah, well, you and I went to West Point to become
soldiers. We should he ready for fighting. I, for one, shall
be glad to breathe fresh mountain air once more/'
Captain Lee laughed. " We who are about to die salute
you' with a draught of mountain air/'
Burdened with four-pounders, howitzers, mortars, the
Army struck off from the beach of Vera Cruz. The major
toiled with his men through the heavy sands, under the
blazing sun of a sultry day. Many fell exhausted and some
died that first day.
The next day there was a good road through forests of
palm and lime and live oak, trees strange to Benjamin. He
forgot the heat and his discomfort as he gazed at marshes
full of green-blue pools whose banks were massed with
flowers so brilliant that they looked poisonous. Parakeets,
scarlet and orange and golden-green, flashed among the
trees. Sometimes the road clung to the sides of cliffs above
perfumed glades. The major looked down to draw in his
breath at the beauty of vast groves of trees shrouded over
with morning glories in full bloom.
They camped at the Plan del Rio. General Scott caught
up with his troops and rode through the camp, doffing his
old straw hat to cheering men. The general might be ego-
tistical, given to petty quarreling, but he was a commander
skilled in military science and practice. His men might call
him "Old Fuss and Feathers," but they trusted him. With his
officers he laid the plans for the attack on Cerro Gordo.
"This plain starts climbing to the plateau now," he said.
"On the road beyond is Cerro Gordo with two fortified hills
La Atalaya and El Telegrapho in front of the town. We
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 159
must take these hills. Santa Anna waits there. Somehow we
must flank him, yet there seems no way through this rough
country but the road/'
'Til find a way around, 1 ' Captain Lee volunteered.
The plan of attack was made. Part of the army was to take
the hills and then wait until another division circled to the
rear of Cerro Gordo. At a signal, concerted attack was to
pinch Santa Anna from front and rear. Major Bonneville
was assigned to the attack on the hills.
Lee found a way through the rocky jungle ravines, and his
engineers built a road. Over a part of this road the major
rode in absolute silence with his men. They reached the rear
of the first hill La Atalaya.
"Mexican troops lurking in the brush," he reported to his
commanding officer. "They skulked off/*
The Mexicans evidently carried news of the attack to
Santa Anna, for he sent troops to reinforce the hills. But the
Americans stormed and took La Atalaya. El Telegrapho was
tougher. The cannons of the Mexicans raked the descent.
The Americans retreated to the stronghold of the first hill.
It was to be a summer of drenching rain, sharp lightning
and rolling thunder. The rains began that night; but the
Americans, in the dark of the storm, dragged up guns to
fortify their position.
Early in the morning the order was given to attempt the
second hill again. Up El Telegrapho the Americans struggled
under bitter fire. Trees gave shelter at first. Then there was
only brush and thorny cactus.
"Charge!" Major Bonneville shouted to his men as the
breastwork loomed above them.
"Charge!" shouted all the other officers.
Up the hill the men charged, yelling and cheering. Pistols
and bayonets and clubbed rifles did deadly work. The Mexi-
160 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
cans were driven from the summit, and the American
was planted on El Telegrapho.
Cerro Gordo was taken and the Americans marched on
Scott halted at Puebla de los Angeles, City of the Angels,
with its dark towers and many ringing church bells. A thou-
sand men had been left in the hospital at Vera Cruz, another
thousand at Jalapa. Dysentery and tropical fevers had re-
duced his army. The enlistment terms of many soldiers were
up, and the men wanted to go home.
'We've seen the elephant," they said. "We're sick of the
Reinforcements came, but the new men were green to
discipline, untried in battle. It was the eighth of August
before the invasion army could continue its march to Mexico
Major Bonneville was glad to be on the move again. When
the road lifted to the Sierra Nevada, he felt at home in the
high, dry air. Soon he saw Popacatapetl (Mountain that
Smokes) and Ixtacipuatl (White Woman) rising high and
majestic, their bases dark with green forest, their crowns
glistening with snow.
"Well do what Santa Anna least expects," General Scott
told his officers in conference. "Instead of approaching over
this main road, we'll skirt Lake Chalco and then turn north
to approach the city. We must throw away the scabbard and
advance with the naked sword."
Reconnoitering parties brought back information that two
well-fortified positions must be taken before the approach to
the city could be reached: Contreras, a breastwork masking
cannon; and Ghurubusco, a strongly fortified hacienda and
Blocking the way was the Pedregal, fifteen square miles
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 161
of black wasteland, a lava flow from some ancient eruption
of one of the volcanoes. The Pedregal seemed impassable;
but Lee, a major now, found a way across tKe lava.
"We must divide/' Scott told his officers. "Some of us will
attack Contreras from the front, while others must cross the
corner of the Pedregal and attack from the back door/'
The August night was black with rain as Major Bonne-
ville waited with his men west of the Pedregal. On foot he
had crossed with the infantry over the waste of broken scoria,
leaping sometimes from point to point of rock on which
there was room for only one foot. Hands cut, boots shredded
with rock, he waited with officers and soldiers for word to be
carried back to General Scott that the men were in position
for a morning attack on Contreras. But reinforcements were
sorely needed; Contreras was stronger than they had ex-
pected. Major Lee volunteered to cross the maze of the
Pedregal alone to take the message to Scott.
"Major Lee will never make it," a young lieutenant said
as they waited in the rain.
"Hell make it/*. Bonneville answered. "There are goat
trails leading across/'
"But how will we know if he makes it? Reinforcements
can never cross in the dark. We'll have to attack alone. Those
Mexican will wipe us out"
"That's war," the major answered. Without thinking, he
slipped into the old trapper speech. "If that's the way our
stick floats, sir, we will die like soldiers/' He smiled at him-
self and added kindly, "Sleep now, while you can."
War, and a foolish war, he thought. A war of aggression.
The United States did not want this strange and alien land.
Mexico could never be a part of America; its people could
never be assimilated. He believed that the United States
should stretch from sea to sea, but the Rio Grande should
162 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
mark its southern border. The mountains he had crossed
were like the mountains of the West; this Pedregal was like
the Lavas he had seen on his way to the Malad beaver
grounds. But the strange tropical forests, the steaming
jungles they were not and should not be a part of clean,
wind-swept America. Let the Mexicans keep their country,
the major thought grimly.
In the loneliness of the dark and the rain, his thoughts
turned to Ann and his daughter Mary. Tomorrow would
bring bloody fighting. Perhaps he would never see his wife
and child again. He'd been lucky so far not a scratch. But
tomorrow He shrugged off fear. He was a soldier, he told
himself, and he'd better get some sleep for the dawn attack.
Major Lee did return with reinforcements, and at dawn
the attack on Contreras began. Scott had ordered a diversion
in front. The Mexicans were completely surprised and out-
flanked. The fighting was furious; but seventeen minutes
after the charge was ordered, Mexican soldiers, in yellow
cloaks and red jackets or in the bright blue and white of
infantry, were fleeing helter skelter toward Churubusco. The
American flag rose over the fortification.
Santa Anna had concentrated all his forces at this ranch
surrounded by high, thick adobe walls. Inside the walls was
a strong stone convent. In front of the hacienda, outside the
walls, was a fieldwork mounting cannon that commanded
the approaches from all directions. Churubusco, Major Bon-
neville decided grimly, was going to be tough work.
The sun shone brightly that same morning when the
American soldiers, without sleep or rest, pushed on to attack
Churubusco. With his men the major slogged his way over
soft, muddy ground, splashed through three feet of water
in the network of irrigation ditches, then led sally after sally
against the bridgehead that spanned the Churubusco River.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 163
Sheets of flame poured down on his men from tlie cannon
guarding the bridgehead and from the walls of the ranch. At
first the men recoiled in panic under the storm of lead. To
the major, heartsick at seeing his men cut down, the waves
of red or bright blue jacketed Mexicans seemed overwhelm-
ing. But he rallied his men and sent them forward against
The waves swept over him, surrounded him. He felt the
searing pain of a bullet in his side. Bright blue and red and
yellow faded to dull gray, then turned black.
When consciousness returned, he looked up into the face
of Robert Lee. Lee was carrying him by the shoulders, and
another man held his feet.
"Did I get it bad, Lee?" the major asked.
"No. Fortunately the bullet struck your canteen first The
force was deflected some. We'll soon have you at the rear."
Blackness came down again. When Benjamin woke he
was in a room with thick white-washed adobe walls.
"We took Churubusco?" he asked the orderly.
"We did after a long day's fighting. There were swarms
of them, and they almost had us once. Butwe took Churu-
busco. You're inside its walls now, Major. This is the con-
vent. We're using it for a hospital/'
"No, Major. Well have you out of here tomorrow. There
are others who need help worse/*
In a few days Major Bonneville felt as strong as ever.
General Scott had signed a truce with Santa Anna, and there
was a two weeks' rest before the general discovered that the
wily Mexican was using the truce time to amass more soldiers
for the defense of Mexico City.
Five roads into the city ended in causeways. The Amer-
1 64 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
ican army was to advance over the causeways of Belen and
"We attack at three the morning of the eighth of Sep-
tember," the major told his regiment. "First is Molino del
Rey, the Kings Mill, where Santa Anna has teen melting
church hells to cast into cannon/'
"On to the hills of Montezuma!" shouted the soldiers.
Two hours of fighting and Molino del Rey was taken.
Then they prepared for an attack on the gray fortress of
"Not going to be easy/' Lee said to the major.
"No, but I'm eager to see Chapultepec, the Hill of the
Grasshoppers. Did you know that it was once the favorite
resort of Montezuma and the princes of the Aztec Empire.
They say there are gardens and grottoes and tombs there
Lee smiled. "I hope we get to see the inside, but it looks
bad. IVe done reconnaissance. The hill has a stone wall at
the bottom and another wall inside the breastworks. Halfway
up the hill there's a strong redoubt with Mexican troops
stationed there. Then there's an inner wall around the crest
of the hilland a ditch. If we get that far, there's a fortress
full of soldiers, and cannon commanding the hill and the
approaches to the city as well."
"I'll meet you in one of the tombs."
"A grim joke," Lee said, laughing. "I'm not sure I like its
It was the morning of the thirteenth of September. The
American batteries opened fire on the slope. Major Bonne-
ville waited with his men. Momentarily the batteries ceased
and then began again. It was the signal for concerted attack.
The major raised his sword in air.
"Charge," he ordered.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 165
Over the first wall lie clambered with his men. They
moved through a grove of cypress trees, and every gray trunk
hid an enemy. Sheets of flame spurted from the guns of the
fortress. Musketry from trees and rocks and breastworks
poured into the American line. There was a momentary
check, but the officers urged their men on. Scaling ladders
were brought. Men mounted and fell back dead or wounded.
Others climbed the ladders. Over the wall they went and
into the fortress.
"We've carried it," the major shouted to his men, some
time and much bloodshed later. "Chapultepec is ours/*
Young Captain Barnard seized the colors of his regiment
and unfurled the American flag over gray Chapultepec.
But there was no rest for the battle-weary soldiers. They
stormed the gates of the city and forced an entrance. From
building to building and from house to house they worked
their way, with musketry pouring down upon them from
the roofs and upper windows of houses and churches. All
that day and all that night they fought their way into the city.
On September 14, at dawn, the white flag of surrender
flew from the citadel. American soldiers marched into the
Alameda and took possesison of the Plaza. The Stars and
Stripes floated in the early morning breeze from the National
During the winter occupation of Mexico City, there was
little disorder. Together with the other officers, Major Bonne-
ville explored the shady faseos of the city and visited the
cathedrals and castles. To the major the city looked Amer-
ican. Over the cafes hung signs in English, and the saloons
were filled with celebrating American soldiers. There were
balls and invitations into Mexican homes, and the officers
danced with the pretty senoritas. But Major Bonneville, like
the other soldiers, wanted to go home. Long-delayed news
166 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
of the death of his mother had reached him, and he grieved
because he had not been with her. He wanted to see Ann
and his small daughter. He had been long enough in the
At last the boundaries of the two countries were set at the
mouth of the Rio Grande. For fifteen million dollars, Mexico
signed over to the United States all of New Mexico, Arizona,
Texas and California.
On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo
was signed in the suburb of Guadalupe, where the shrine of
Our Lady marks the spot at which the Virgin Mary appeared
long ago, so the legend goes, to a devout and simple Indian
Juan Diego. Flowers had bloomed then where none were
before, and clear, cool water had welled from dry soil. It was
fitting that a treaty of peace should be signed near that sacred
Over the mountains to the sea Major Bonneville marched
with his regiment, glad to be going back to the country that
lie loved, happy at the thought of seeing his family again.
As his men boarded the ship that was to take them home,
he smiled to hear them roar the song that had become the
American soldiers' home-going chorus:
General Scott and Taylor too,
Heave away, Santy Anno;
Have made poor Santy meet his Waterloo,
All on the plains of Mexico.
So heave her up and away well go,
Heave away, Santy Anno;
Heave her up and away well go
All on the plains of Mexico.
But the major was not through with fighting. On his re-
turn to the -States, he found himself faced with another
battle for his good name. A captain of the Sixth had seen his
brother, a young lieutenant, shot down at Churubusco. He
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 167
was so embittered that he made charges against Major Bonne-
ville of mismanagement of troops, charges so unjust that a
court-martial had to be ordered to clear the case.
"I tell you, sir/' Major Bonneville told his commanding
officer, "no blame can come to me because one man was shot
down in that slaughter at the bridgehead. All around me my
men fell before the cannon of the Mexicans. I was sad to see
it, sir, sad indeed. But I was helpless to prevent the death of
any one man."
"Don't take this charge to heart, Major," the officer said.
"The charge is most unjust, but the court-martial will serve
to clear your name."
"I cannot understand it, sir. Always I have tried to save
the men under my command. And to be accused"
"We know your reputation for kindness, Major. What is
it your men call you? 'Old Bonny'? Such nicknames come
from the hearts of men well treated. Your men all know
you as a good officer. Never fear, this case will soon be
The trial did clear the matter, and instead of a reprimand
Benjamin Bonneville was brevetted a lieutenant colonel for
gallantry in action at Contreras and Churubusco.
Colonel Bonneville was relieved and happy, but he had
been deeply mortified and hurt by the charge. Although his
name had been cleared, he knew that the hurt would linger
long. But since he was first of all a soldier, he put his humilia-
tion out of mind and turned with courage to take up his new
How shall I rest while the arrow yet flies?
The dust of the war is still in my eyes?
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
Gold had been discovered in California a few days be-
fore the signing of the treaty with Mexico. By the time
Colonel Bonneville was again at Fort Smith, the rush to El
Dorado was in full march. The fort was on one of the over-
land trails, and up the Arkansas every day rolled the emigrant
trains bound for the gold fields.
Often in the evenings the colonel rode out to talk with
the gold seekers and enjoy the sights and sounds of a busy
camp. He watched the pitching of tents, the gathering of
wood, the preparing of food. He listened happily to the thud
of ax on wood, the ring of hammer as some wagon was
mended, the jolly laughter of children at play. When the
campfires twinkled over the prairie, he wandered from fire
to fire, exchanging tales with the shaggy-bearded men and
the courageous women who dared the prairie in knicker-
bockers under full cotton skirts. When the fiddles wailed
and the banjos strummed the music of the trail, the colonel
sang with the gold seekers:
Ho, boys, ho for California,
There's plenty of gold, so I've been told,
On the banks of the Sacramento.
Although he had no desire to search for gold, the colonel
felt again the old longing to see the Southwest. Grapevine
news told him that an officer was to be assigned to accompany
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 169
a large emigrant train through the dangerous Indian country
to the west. Benjamin hoped that he would be chosen be-
cause of his experience in trailing and Indian fighting. One
of the most severe disappointments of his life came when
another officer was appointed.
But Colonel Bonneville was a good officer. Cheerfully he
put his disappointment out of mind and accepted without
complaint the long series of assignments that took him to
various posts: Fort Kearney, Nebraska; Fort Howard, Wis-
consin; and Fort Columbus, New York.
In 1853, when Washington Territory was carved from
Oregon, he realized an old dream. Assigned to command at
Columbia Barracks, Oregon, he at last traveled the Columbia
River all the way to the Pacific. Feeling a deep satisfaction,
he rode down the blue river realizing that all this land now
belonged to America by treaty with Great Britain. All across
the rich Oregon country he saw villages and scattered ranches
springing up along the streams.
"They have come the settlers/' he murmured to himself,
"They have followed my wagon tracks across the Rockies."
At the fort he was greeted by his new quartermaster. The
colonel stared with delight at the young officer who faced
"Ulysses Grant!" the colonel exclaimed. "Is it really you,
Grant laughed. "The same, Colonel. The same man who
fought with you 'all on the plains of Mexico/ We're glad
you've come, sir. There is much work to do here."
Shortly after the colonel's arrival, Columbia Barracks had
its name changed to Fort Vancouver. With the signing of
the treaty with England, the post had been acquired from
the Hudson's Bay Company. Now the six hundred and forty
acres of military reservation must be mapped and surveyed.
170 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
Colonel Bonneville began the work cheerfully; surveying and
map making were tasks he knew he did well. So efficiently
did he lay out the post that his plan of buildings is still in
He had a go at Indian fighting also. When the Rogue
River Indians to the south attacked isolated settlers and am-
bushed wagon trains, the colonel sent soldiers and artillery
to subdue the uprising.
Life in the Oregon fort was lively, but the colonel was
happy when new orders came for him in 1856. After return-
ing to the east to report he was to be allowed the great ad-
venture of which he had dreamed for years. He was at last
to see the Southwest, that land of which Joe Walker had
said, "Gits into your blood that's all/' A full colonel now,
Bonneville had been appointed temporary commander of the
Military Department of New Mexico with headquarters at
Santa Fe. He was to ride with recruits to the Southwest to
settle the Indian troubles there.
Since comfortable military wagons were included in the
train, Ann, who had remained behind so many times, was
to ride with him.
"Let us take Mary with us," the colonel said. "I have seen
so little of her."
Ann smiled. "Why not? Surely Santa Fe will have
When they reached St. Louis by a steamboat the colonel
bought a small, sturdy horse for Mary. They followed the
Santa Fe Trail across the prairies to New Mexico. Mary, a
coltish little girl of thirteen who showed signs of coming
beauty, loved riding through strange new country; but the
colonel sensed that Ann was bewildered by the space and
"Do you like it, Ann this country?" he asked.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 171
"A little. But it's so hot and dry and brown all over."
"Perhaps it will grow on you, as my old friend Joe Walker
once told me it did. To me, this land is all that I have
dreamed. Its strangness and its color stir my emotions."
Ann smiled fondly. "You always like new country. It's the
adventurer and explorer in you. To me, the land seems alien.
But I will like it, Benjamin, because you do."
The colonel, sensitive to the strange beauty of the arid
land, rose in the chill dawns to watch the unearthly light
that just before sunrise touched to warm golden the trees,
the barren buttes, the isolated adobe houses. At dusk he
watched the pinon-covered hills grow black and weird against
an apricot sky that deepened to dusky rose toward the distant
misty blue and purple mountains. He loved the blue-black
storm clouds that boiled up late in the summer afternoon,
the winds that lashed the cottonwoods and sent the brown
dust swirling, the cool scented air of the desert after rain had
They rode through the Spanish village of Mora, where
the women crowded curiously about Ann and Mary and
chattered in their rapid, liquid speech.
"We are entering a different world," Ann said, sounding
a little frightened. "This village is like a foreign town,"
At Fort Union, near what is now Las Vegas, New Mexico,
the colonel was surprised to see no breastworks or stockade.
"It looks like a quiet frontier village," he told Ann. "Yet
this fort is the busy supply center for fifty forts strung along
the Rio Grande."
Fort Union made a pleasant stop, for it was lively with
bands playing, officers* balls, and amateur theatricals. But
the colonel was eager to push on to Santa Fe. Ann and Mary
enjoyed the country through which they now rode, for there
were cedar trees and pines. There were great vellow cotton-
172 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
woods along the streams in the valleys, and in tlie mountains
aspen trees touched by the frosts to gold. They passed through
the mission grounds of San Miguel, where the courteous
Spanish women brought Ann and Mary tortillas and goats'
milk. At Pecos they stopped to explore the ruins of an ancient
It was on a golden afternoon in September that they rode
down the long grade from the pinon-covered plateau to enter
"There it is/* Benjamin said. "Santa Fe, the golden mecca
of many of my trappers/'
"Oh, Benjamin/' Ann exclaimed in dismay, "it's nothing
but a village of mud huts sprawled around a square."
"There are trees in the Plaza anyway," the colonel con-
Eagerly he gazed about him as they rode down the dusty
hill. The sun, low in the west, touched with slanting golden
light the adobe walls that enclosed the houses. Beyond the
town rose the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Range.
The golden flame of aspen marked out the hollows in the
mountains, and the high rocky summits glowed rose-red in
the light of the setting sun. Through the town ran a thread
of gold cottoonwoods on the banks of a stream,
"Look, Ann," Benjamin said, wanting her to like this
place, "it is a golden town. We enter at a good time of day."
Ann answered dreamily, "Santa Fe does have something
a charm, a fascination."
Mary, who was intrigued with the pretty Spanish girls
who ran after them through the narrow crooked street call-
ing, "Bonita muckachita" said, "I like it Santa Fe. What
are the girls saying to me?"
Her father smiled fondly. "They are calling you 'Pretty
little girl.'" .
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 173
They rode across the stream to a dusty street where officers
rode beside the carriages of pretty women.
"The Alameda, of which I have heard/' the colonel re-
marked dryly. "It seems to be the evening promenade of the
The Plaza was a square of hard-packed earth, but there
were trees; and there was a crumbling church at one side and
the ancient Governor's Palace at another.
"The buildings look so old, Father," Mary exclaimed. "I
thought you said the West was all wild, new country."
Colonel Bonneville laughed. "Not this section. The Palace
of the Governors was built here on the Plaza ten years before
the Pilgrim Fathers landed in New England. The Spanish
settled this country long ago."
He found rooms for Ann and Mary in the gay La Fonda
Inn before reporting to the retiring commander at Fort
Marcy. Greetings over, the colonel remarked on the peace
and quiet of the town and the surrounding country.
"The country is far from quiet," the commander said.
"There are enemy Indians on all sides of us Navahos to the
north and west of the Rio Grande, Apaches in all the moun-
tains, Comanches who winter in the Bols6n de Mapimi down
in Mexico but range clear to Santa Fe in the summer. The
Apaches are the worst threat to the settlers. These Indians
run off sheep, ambush the mountain roads, murder the
ranchers. You have a job cut out for you, Colonel, if you
stop these depredations. IVe heard of your reputation in
dealing with Indians. You'll need all your skill and patience
Colonel Bonneville found a house for Ann and then began
the work laid out for him. The Apaches, he discovered, had
a clever way of stealing sheep from the white and the
Mexican ranchers. These Indians herded the sheep into an
174 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
oblong mass thirty feet wide. Then they lashed the strongest
sheep together by the horns, two and two, to make a living
fence to contain the flock. Indian drivers then ran at each
side and ahead. By this method they could drive twenty
thousand sheep fifty to seventy miles a day.
The Apaches were lean and sinewy Indians, possessing
great strength and endurance. They were cruel and pitiless,
and lived by robbery and murder. Like the Crows of the
Wind River Mountains, the Apaches believed that to steal
was honor. The desert was home, and in it they wandered
from place to place, making the arid land feed them, knowing
every water hole, every hidden valley of green grass.
The Mimbreno, Gila, and Coyotero Apaches, who lived
near the new American copper and gold mines on the Gila
River, were not in the least frightened when they heard that
Colonel Bonneville had arrived to quell the Indians. In
November the Apaches murdered an Indian agent a few
miles from Zuni and terrorized the villages west of the Rio
Grande. Ranchers and mining men complained.
"During the last twenty years in New Mexico and Ari-
zona," one rancher said, 'Indians have cost us over fifty
thousand dollars. No outlying rancher is safe from sudden
death in the night."
Colonel Bonneville decided that it was time to move
against the Apaches. He established a depot in a grove of
cottonwood trees on the banks of the Gila River near the
Mogollon Mountains. It was a good camp. While his troops
set up tents, the colonel explored the valley, observing the
rich soil, the water of the stream, the plentiful wood supply.
It was a fertile valley, and as always, he saw in his imagination
the ranches of settlers dotted among green fields. He would
talk about it in Santa Fe in hopes that settlers might come.
The next morning he divided his forces in two columns,
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 175
sending one to the north and riding with the other to the
southeast. Late in the afternoon he turned to the officer under
him, Lieutenant Colonel Miles.
"See that smoke, Miles?"
"I see it. Does it mean anything?"
"How do you know?"
Colonel Bonneville smiled. "An old free trapper Matt
Beers told me at a time when to know meant life and death
for five men. A sudden puff of smoke like that means in
Indian language, 'Be careful. Strange men present/ Let us
watch the smoke."
Soon the puffs of smoke stopped and a steady column rose
into still air.
"And what does that mean, Colonel?" Miles asked.
"That means, 'All bands gather and get ready to fight/
We'd better do the same."
And so the troopers were prepared when a large band of
Coyotero and Mogollon Apaches swept down from the hills,
their long-drawn war cries sounding, Miles said, "like all
the devils of hell let loose."
From half-past four until sundown the troopers battled
against the lances, arrows and bullets of the Apaches. Even
the Indian women fought, vicious as their men. For miles on
both sides of the Gila, the fighting spread. Desperately the
Apaches battled, but at sundown it was over and they gal-
loped off, carrying their wounded.
"How many did we lose?" asked the colonel, always eager
for the safety of the men under his command.
"None," Miles answered. "Six wounded."
The northern column had been equally successful, and the
colonel rode victoriously back to the Indian agency with his
176 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
troopers. A few days later three Coyoteros, led by Pena, their
chief, rode into the agency grounds under a white flag.
"Pena says/' Agent Steck told the colonel, "that they have
come from a great council of their people. The bald-headed
white chief is too strong for them. He says he speaks for all
his people between the Pinal and the Mogollon Mountains.
They offer their mountains, woods, water and grass in ex-
change for peace/'
"Tell Chief Pena/' Bonneville answered, "that we do not
want their woods and waters, their mountains and grass. We
do not want even their gold. We desire only peace/'
The Apaches promised not to molest the settlers and the
tribe kept its word.
"The Gila Expedition/' stated the Santa Fe Weekly
Gazette, "has been the most arduous, trying and dangerous
military expedition projected since New Mexico became a
possession of the United States." The newspaper hailed
Colonel Bonneville as a hero who had taught the Apaches
"a most salutary lesson."
From 1858 to 1861, Colonel Bonneville was the full com-
mander of the Military Department of New Mexico. Indian
troubles flared again and again. In 1858, Navahos murdered
a Negro boy, servant to an officer. The Indians stubbornly
refused to give up the murderers. An angered young captain
rashly ordered his company to attack a Navaho band, and by
so doing brought on another war.
Colonel Bonneville sent Miles with three hundred men
to put down the uprising. Soon almost the whole military
strength of New Mexico was fighting in the wild Navaho
lands. Miles penetrated the supposedly impregnable Canyon
de Chelly, with its high red walls and ancient Indian homes.
The Navahos were difficult to defeat. Their hogans were
scattered through a vast and ancient land of high plateau
cut by deep, rocky canyons or thrust up in the long massive
fingers of mesas. They were nomadic herders, moving their
flocks of sheep and goats into faraway hidden valleys during
the summer. Their warriors were fierce, silent men, attack-
ing swiftly and then vanishing on lean ponies into the fast-
nesses of the land whose every secret hiding place they knew
There were many skirmishes with these Indians, and
much of their property, including thousands of sheep, was
destroyed. The Navahos were crushed for a time.
On Christmas Day in 1858, Colonel Bonneville rode to a
great council of Navaho chiefs at Fort Defiance, west of
Albuquerque. While his army column moved across the
desert, the blue wagons with their white tops swaying over
rough trail, the colonel found himself watching for Indian
sign in the empty land: the smoke of cainpfires, trampled
grass, the ashes of old fires, the slight movement behind sage-
brush or mesquite that might mean Indian eyes watching.
At Fort Defiance he gave the usual orders for tents to be
set up, horses picketed. All about the fort the Navahos were
encamped, and soon they sat silently in a great circle to watch
as their chiefs deliberated with the white leader. The colonel
opened the conference by making gifts to the stern chiefs.
He spoke to them through an interpreter.
"The Navahos must pay for the damage they have caused,"
he said. "And they must give up all white captives/'
"We are the Dineh, the -People/ 1 the spokesman for the
Navahos said. "This is our land. We do not want the white
Colonel Bonneville had great sympathy for the defeated
Indians, but he spoke firmly.
"My heart is sad for you. But the white man is here to
stay. The Navahos have tried, and they now know that they
178 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
have not enough arrows to hold back the white man. Your
warriors have killed white men. They have stolen horses and
sheep and cattle from the white men. Now the Navahos
The defeated chiefs finally agreed. Then Colonel Bonne-
ville set boundaries over which Indians could not cross; but
white people, he stipulated, were to be allowed to cross
Navaho land unmolested in order to set up military posts
within the boundaries. The chiefs put their marks to the
treaty paper, but they broke its term before it had been rati-
fied by the Senate.
In order to learn the real strength of the Navahos and to
gain knowledge of the country, exploring parties were sent
out from Fort Defiance. Bonneville reorganized the military
posts to provide more protection for ranchers, miners and
the hordes of emigrants pushing toward California. He
shifted troops to more strategic positions, stationed mounted
riflemen at the mines and sent infantry to danger spots. He
also manned new forts.
"IVe done the best I could for the people of New Mexico,"
he told Ann on the eve of his retirement from the Army for
disabilities that were the result of exposure in action. "But
my best has not been good enough. New Mexico will have
troubles with the Indians for years to come/'
Ann saw the discouragement in his face, saw that the erect
shoulders drooped a bit. She knew that Benjamin was un-
happy over his retirement, bewildered at the thought of
facing any existence but army life. Such bewilderment was
natural for a man who had given forty-five years to the
service of his country. She had known that this moment of
discouragement would come, and she was ready for.it She
put down her sewing, threw another stick of pinon wood on
the fire and brought him the newspaper.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 179
"New Mexico thinks you have done well, Benjamin," she
told him. "Here, read what they say about you. The state
legislature has passed a joint resolution thanking you for
your service here."
He took the paper, trying to hide the shaking of his hand.
Wonderingly, he read aloud: "Had it not been for Colonel
Bonneville our territory would still be subjected to the in-
cursions of these roving bands regardless of lives and prop-
Dropping the paper, he looked up, his eyes misty with
"That isn't the best part," Ann said, "the part that makes
me the proudest. Here let me read it to you. 'He found a
valuable and fertile portion of our territory on the headwaters
of the Gila and its tributaries, which otherwise might have
remained unknown/ "
"Did they really say that, Ann? I'm glad they credit me
with finding that valley glad. It was my biggest service here,
I think. Subduing those poor Indians was nothing to be
proud of, Ann. But finding new, rich lands for settlers that
is the accomplishment I shall choose to remember/'
He squared his shoulders. Perhaps, he thought, his years
of service had not been wasted. Settlers would pour into the
Gila Valley. There would be fertile farms and rich crops
there. And he had taken the first wagons over the Rockies.
Settlers had followed those wagon tracks across the moun-
tains to build America in the Oregon country. He had no
pride in all the Indian fights, no pride in his share of the
battles in Mexico. But to have had even a small part in the
building of America that was a thing for pride.
I lived past eighty.
1 liked it all, sir.
STEPHEN VINCENT BENET
The Bonnevilles moved to St. Louis. The colonel was
sixty-five now, and retired from the service. But the Civil
War had begun. Past the age for active fighting, he still was
determined to make himself useful.
"I'm going back into the service, Ann/' he told her. "There
will be something I can do/'
"Must you, Benjamin? YouVe served your country for
forty-six years. Isn't that enough?"
He smiled. "No, Ann, not enough. One can never serve
one's country too long. Besides, this is a war to free America
from the sin of slavery. Long ago I promised my old friqnd
Tom Paine that when such a war came I would fight. It's
been long in coming, and while I'm an old man in years I'm
strong and well Surely the Army can use experienced officers
behind the lines at some job."
Many of his fellow officers had sympathized with the
South, but never had he had a moment's leaning in that
"All men should be free, no matter their color/' he had
said over and over again throughout the years.
"I think Lee believed in freedom for the slave also," Ben-
jamin told Ann. "What a struggle he had between loyalty to
his native state of Virginia and his love for the Union. Well,
he's a general now for the South General Robert E. Lee.
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 181
And no matter on which side he fights, the young captain I
knew in Mexico will fight bravely and wisely."
Many of the colonel's hrother officers in the War with
Mexico had joined the southern cause: the daring and gallant
Beauregard, Hardee, and Thomas J. Jackson, who already
had earned the title of "Stonewall Jackson * in the Battle of
"Ulysses Grant at least is Union," the colonel said. "And
he's a good officer, smart enough to have learned a lot in the
Mexican War. He'll make his mark."
Colonel Bonneville re-entered active service at once. He
was assigned to St. Louis as the superintendent of Recruiting
Service in Missouri. Sometimes he longed for rousing battle
action, but he consoled himself that he was at least taking
some part in the battle to free the nation of slavery. Cheer-
fully and efficiently he performed all the tasks assigned to
him in Missouri: chief mustering and disbursing officer,
commander at Benton Barracks, commander at Jefferson Bar-
The war years were sad ones for Colonel Bonneville. His
daughter Mary died. She was a beautiful girl of just eighteen,
She had been light and life to him, and he grieved. But Ann,
who did not have his acceptance of reality, was inconsolable.
A month after Mary's death the sorrowing colonel buried his
wife beside his daughter. Benjamin was alone.
In his loneliness he turned his thoughts to Fort Smith and
the Arkansas River, where so much of his life had been spent
The war was over now. The Army no longer had use for the
services of an aging man. He had been made a brigadier
general a month before his old companion-in-arms Robert E.
Lee had surrendered to U. S. Grant at Appomattox. But
General Bonneville felt little pleasure in his advancement,
although he valued the citation for long and faithful service.
For fifty years he had served his country. Sitting beside
die lonely fire in his empty home, he spent an evening going
over in his mind the long, full years of his service: the lonely
frontier outposts, the series of forts all over the United States,
the exploration in the fur areas, the Mexican war and then
more lonely frontier posts. He rose from his chair with a
vague feeling that he must talk things over with Ann. He had
shared so many troubles and honors with her. He shrugged
into his greatcoat, for it was October and he felt the cold
more than he had used to. Under a harvest moon, he walked
to the cemetery and stood above the graves of his wife and
Tm retiring, Ann/' he said aloud. "The oldest officer ever
to be retired from the United States Army. God knows I've
won little glory. But for fifty years I have served my country
faithfully. You and Mary would have said that is enough of
a record for pride. Perhaps it is. Perhaps."
General Bonneville rode again to Fort Smith. He took the
stagecoach this time, listening to the blast of its horn on crisp
fall air as the stage rolled through the valleys and prairies
along the Arkansas. He remembered his first trip up this
river in a keelboat. What an eager young officer he had been,
treasuring his dream of seeing all of wild America!
Well, he thought, I saw America from coast to coast, from
north to south. I made my dream into reality.
He thought of the freedom of those years of mountain
exploration in the West. He longed to see the Wind River
again, the Popo Agie, the mountains and sagebrush plains
of Idaho. But he was an old man of seventy, and the old free
life beyond the Mississippi was gone. The fur trade was
dead. He could never again be free as he had been during
his three years of river trail and mountain climb. And yet,
freedom was in the heart, a thing of mind and spirit. What
did it matter where he lived out his last years?
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 183
In the little village of Fort Smith the general found
quarters. He was still a fine-looking man, erect and hand-
some. Always genial and companionable, he soon made
friends in the town and among the new officers at the fort.
He attended military functions and dined often as a guest
in Fort Smith homes. But he was lonely.
In 1870 he met Susan Neiss. Although younger than he,
she was happy to marry the courtly general who had such
gentle ways and pleasant manners. To satisfy her young
vanity, he bought a wig of dark luxuriant hair and wore it
with considerable amusement at himself. He smiled every
time he thought of what Joe Walker would say about the
wig or the Nez Perce Indians who had named him Chief
He built a gracious home for Susan on a hill overlooking
river and prairie. Adelaide Hall, as they named it, soon be-
came a synonym for freehanded hospitality. Remembering
his Mary, the general was fond of all young people, and they
returned his affection with love and regard. "The good old
man" they called him. At Adelaide Hall, around a massive
table of solid mahogany, the Bonnevilles often entertained
the officers from Fort Smith, townspeople and visitors to the
encampment. Down the graceful stairway of black walnut
came the young officers in full-dress uniform and the gracious
women holding up long-trained skirts of silk and satin.
Susan was fond of showing the women Washington Irv-
ing's silver, engraved with his monogram. The general en-
joyed showing the men his commissions, signed by five
presidents of the United States.
"You have lived a long and serviceable life, General," one
young guest said. "You must have seen a lot of history made,"
"Yes, I've seen the United States become a nation of great
strength and wide lands under the principle of liberty for
all men, sir. IVe seen the wagons of pioneers moving west-
J84 BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE
ward, and I've been glad of the stubbornness that made me
stow them that the Rockies were no bar to wheels. IVe seen
the end of the fur trade, and the Indians pushed back to
make room for the settler. IVe seen steamboats plying the
rivers where once floated only the silent canoe of the Indian
and the keelboat of the trader. And of late, sir, IVe seen rail-
roads pushing across the prairies. IVe seen towns built in
once-secret valleys, and heard unknown mountains given
names. In short, IVe seen America grow from youth to lusty
"And of all the history that your years have seen, General,
what seems to you the most important?"
General Bonneville did not hesitate. "The fact, sir, that no
man now lives in America, black or white, who is not free.
No man, sir, who is not free/'
As the general aged, he sat often in the sunshine watching
the steamboats move up and down the Arkansas, listening
for the long musical blast of the stage horn over the hills,
living over in his thoughts all the experiences of his full
years. Sometimes he talked of his explorations with the
young officers who stopped to chat with him.
"I tell you, sir/* he would say, "you'll never see that land
as I saw it. I tell you, sir, never no more/'
Sometimes he thought with regret of the two smirches on
his long record, black marks for acts for which he was
blameless. Often he wondered what had become of the report
that had been delivered to the War Department and verbally
"Lost/* he would say to anyone who listened. "Lost, sir,
all these years. But my report is there, sir. There in the files/'
"I'm a tired old man/' he told Susan one day, "but I'm
thankful that I've never known a sick day. Every one of my
eighty-one years has been packed full of living."
BENJAMIN BONNEVILLE 1 85
When he died in 1878, these words were carved on Gen-
eral Bonneville's tomb:
HERE LIES ONE WHOSE DEEDS HAVE NOT ESCAPED THE
PAGES OF FAME.
GENERATIONS YET UNBORN SHALL KNOW THE RECORD OF
For nearly a hundred years his deeds have "escaped the
pages of fame." For nearly a hundred years a shadow has
rested on his name.
"Bonneville?" people said. "Oh, he's that man that went
west on a fur expedition and was absent without leave from
the Army for two years/'
But in 1930, the lost report was found, filed long ago by
some clerk who had wrongly numbered the paper. The
ancient and faded handwriting was deciphered. And there
it all was the painstaking report of a soldier who had be-
lieved his information of vital importance to his country.
The cloud on the name of Benjamin Bonneville has at last
lifted from his record.
Through the pages of Washington living's book, the name
and deeds of Bonneville have been preserved. His name has
been remembered on the maps of the West. Few who cross
the Nevada desert west of Salt Lake or who drive the long
sagebrush plain toward Idaho know that they are speeding
over the bed of an ancient lake, whose waters in ancient
times twice covered an area of twenty thousand square miles.
But the extinct lake bears the name of the soldier-explorer.
In addition to the Bonneville Dam and the Bonneville Salt
Flats, there is a Bonneville County in Utah and a town of
Bonneville in Oregon. The name of a man who gave fifty
years of faithful service to America will be known by "gen-
erations yet unborn/'
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Stanley, F. Fort Union. Denver: World Press, 1953.
Vestal, Stanley. Kit Carson. Boston and New York: The Riverside Press,
Wallace, Lee. An Autobiography. New York: Harper & Bros., 1906.
Watson, Douglas. West Wind, the Life Story of Joseph Reddeford
Walker. Los Angeles: 1934.
Whitlock, Brand. Lafayette. Vol. II. New York and London: D. Apple-
ton & Co., 1929.
Woodward, N." E. Tom Paine: America's Godfather, 1737-1809. New
York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1945.
Adams, John, 52
Adams, John Quincy, 143, 147
Adventures of Captain Ronnevttle,
Age of Reason, 30
Albany, New York, 36
"All on the Plains of Mexico," 166
America, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 24,
25, 31, 34, 37, 38, 39, 47, 48, 49,
50, 52, 63, 109, 161, 162, 169,
179, 180, 184, 186
American Hag, 154, 155, 156, 160,
American Fur Co., 76, 77, 78, 130,
American Revolution, 11, 26, 28
Apache Indians, 173, 175-76
Arbuckle, Colonel, 44, 46, 47, 144
Arizona, 166, 174
Arkansas River, 43, 44, 45, 55, 168,
181, 182, 184
Arkansas Territory, 55
Army of the Center, 151
Astor, John Jacob, 57, 139, 140
Astoria, 57, 58, 140
Astoria, by Washington Irving, 140
Barlow, Joel, 12, 134
Bannock Indians, 170
Battle of Bull Run, 181
Bear River, 82, 96, 117, 125
Beauregard, P. G. T., 181
Beaver trapping (method), 98-100
Becknell, William, 61
Beer Spring, 117
Beers, Matt, 79, 98, 100-105, 113-
123, 125, 132, 136, 175
Benton Barracks, 181
Big Horn River, 108, 111, 112, 113
Bien Informe, 11
BlacHoot Indians, 83-84, 85, 90, 91,
93, 102, 106, 113, 126
Blue Mountains, 124, 125, 134, 138
Boggs, Bill, 19-21
Boise River, 98
Bols6n de Mapimi, 152-53, 173
Bonaparte, Napoleon, 12, 14, 23, 39,
Bonneville, Oregon, 186
Bonneville, Ann Lewis (wife), 146-
47, 149, 162, 170-73, 178-79, 181,
Bonneville, Benjamin Louis Eulalie,
childhood in France, 11-16; sails
for America, 17-21; boyhood in
New York under influence of
Thomas Paine, 26-38; school days,
32-33, 39-41; is graduated from
West Point, 41; appointed to Jack-
son Military Road in Mississippi,
41-43, and to Fort Smith, Arkansas,
43-46; as aide to Lafayette, 46-51;
visits France, 51-52; prepares for
exploration in the West, 53-56;
arranges for furlough 56-58; death
of father, 58; recruits trappers, 58-
64; first buffalo hunt, 69-71; en-
counters Crow Indians, 72-73; takes
first wagons across the Rockies, 67-
74; builds a fort on Green River,
79-81; crosses Snake Plain, 84-85;
encounters Nez Perc6 Indians, 85-
88; winter camp, 89-96; traps
beaver, 97-100; goes to Green River
Rendezvous, 101-108; sends Joe
Walker to find short route to Cali-
fornia, 109; dispatches report to
War Department, 107-113; ex-
plores Crow country, 113-117; is
lost in Hell's Canyon of the Snake,
118-120; crosses the Wallowa
Mountains in winter, 120-25; at-
tempts again to reach the Pacific,
131-34; disbands his fur expedi-
tion, 135; fights for reinstatement
in the Army, 135-43; meets Wash-
ington Irving, 139-43; wins rein-
statement, 142-44; serves in Semi-
nole War, 145-46; marriage and
birth of children, 146-47; serves
as major in the Mexican War, 148-
69; commissioned lieutenant-colo-
nel, 167; appointed commander of
Military Department of New Mex-
Bonneville, Benjamin (cowt'd.)
ico and commissioned colonel, 170;
leads successful expedition against
Apaches, 170-79; retires but re-en-
lists for duty in Civil War, 180-
81; death of wife and daughter,
181; retires a brigadier general,
181; builds home at Fort Smith
and marries Susan Neiss, 183;
death and epitaph, 185
Bonneville County, Utah, 186
Bonneville Dam, Oregon, 9, 186
Bonneville, Margaret Brazier (moth-
er), 10-12, 14, 17, 18, 20-22, 24,
25, 26, 28, 31, 33, 36, 37, 40, 46,
47, 63, 64, 138, 143, 166
Bonneville, Mary Irving (daughter),
147, 162, 170-73, 181, 182, 183
Bonneville, Nicolas (father), 10-16,
18, 39, 40, 46, 47, 58, 64
Bonneville, Nicolas (son), 147
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, 9, 186
Bonneville^ Folly, 81, 82, 104, 106,
Bonneville, Thomas Paine (brother),
12, 14, 17, 18, 20, 24, 32, 46, 138
Bordentown, New Jersey, 24, 25
Bridger, Jim, 126
Buckeye the Delaware, 85, 136
Buffalo hunting, 69-71, 89-90, 101-
Cache, building of, 82
Cain, Tom, 60, 71, 73, 82, 136
California, 62, 80, 109, 110, 127,
128, 131, 148, 149, 157, 168, 178
Campbell, Robert, 111, 166
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 146
Cerr<, Michel, 60, 61, 63, 68, 69,
71, 77, 78, 81, 82, 83, 84, 87, 93,
103, 108, 112, 113, 129, 130, 131,
Cerro Gordo, 157-59, 160
Chancellor Livingston, 48
Cherokee Indians, 43, 44, 46, 55, 145
Chickasaw Indians, 43
Chihuahua, 149, 150, 152, 153, 157
Choctaw Indians, 43
Choteau, Auguste, 53-55
Churubusco, 160, 162, 163, 166, 167
Churubusco River, 162
Civil War, 180
Clark, William, 35, 45
Columbia Barracks, 169-170
Columbia Gorge, 9
Columbia River, 9, 80, 104, 106,
107, 109, 118, 124, 131, 133, 152,
Comanche Indians 173
Commerce of the Prairies, 150
Common Sense, 12, 26, 28
Cooper, Samuel, 141
Council Bluffs, 137
Council of Navaho chiefs, 178-79
Coyotero Apaches, 174, 176
Creek Indians, 55
Crisis, The, 12, 28, 141, 142
Crockett, Davy, 42
Cromwell, Oliver, 14
Crow country, 108, 111-17, 131, 141
Crow Indians, 72, 73, 87, 106, 113,
Delaware Indians, 63, 77, 85
Devil's Gate, 73
Diego, Juan, 166
Doniphan, Alexander William, 149,
East River, 34, 139
El Telegrapho, 158-60
Everglades, 145, 146
Eustas, Abram, 140-41
Fink, Mike, 42
Fitzpatrick, Tom, 111, 117
Flathead Indians, 90, 106
Fontanelle, Lucien, 76-78
Fort Columbus, 169
Fort Defiance, 177
Fort Howard, 169
Fort Kearney, 169
BENJAMIN BONNE VILLE
Fort Lafayette, 48
Fort Marcy, 173
Fort Osage, 63, 65
Fort Smith, 43, 44, 45, 46, 145, 147,
168, 181, 183
Fort Union, New Mexico, 171
Fort Vancouver, 169
Fort Walla Walla, 124, 133
Fort Wyoming, 49
France, 10, 14, 23, 31, 46, 51
Franklin, Benjamin, 10, 19, 39
Free trappers, 77-79, 102
French Revolution, 10, 11
Fulton, Robert, 12, 34, 36, 45
Georgia, 55, 145
Gila Apaches, 174
Gila Expedition, 174-76
Gila Valley, 174, 179
Godin's River (Big Lost), 94, 97, 126
Grande Ronde, 132
Grand River, 46, 53, 144
Grant, Ulysses S., 169, 181
Great Britain, 40, 51, 56, 80, 169
Great Lakes, 41, 58
Great Snake Plain, 83, 84, 93-96,
106, 125, 126, 131, 148, 152
Gregg, Josiah, 150-52
Green River, 68, 74, 75, 79, 81, 82,
93, 101, 102, 107, 111, 117, 138
Green River Rendezvous, 101, 103-
Gros Ventre Indians, 83
Gulf of Mexico, 42, 58, 80, 149, 154
"Hail, Columbia," 154
HeU Gate, 139
Hell's Canyon of the Snake, 119-20
Horse Creek, 81, 104
Horse Prairie, 89
Houston, Sam, 149
Hudson's Bay Fur Company, 45, 56,
106, 107, 108, 118, 124, 131, 133,
Hudson River, 36, 37
Idaho, 9, 182, 185
Independence, Missouri, 137
Indian Territory, 145
Irving, Washington, 39, 40, 139^0,
143, 147, 183, 185
Jackson, Andrew, 142
Jackson Military Road, 181
Jackson, Thomas J., 181
Jackson's Hole, 83
Jacobins, 1 1
Jarvis, John Wesley, 33
Jefferson Barracks, 181
Jefferson, Thomas, 34, 35, 49, 52
John Day's Defile, 93
Jornada del Muerte, 149
Kansas River, 67
Kearney, Stephen W., 149, 157
Kirkenbride, James, 25
La Atalaya, 158-59
Lafayette, Marquis de la, 11, 14, 16,
Lake Chalco, 160
La Grange, 52
Lake Bonneville, 9, 185
Lavas (Craters of the Moon, Idaho),
Lee, Robert E., 150-54, 156-59, 161-
64, 180, 181
Lewis, Dr. Charles, 146
Lewis, Meriwether, 35, 36, 45
Ltberte, egalite, fraternite, 10, 31
Little Horn Range, 112
Little Lake, 117
Lobos Islands, 154
Lone Star Republic, 149
Louis XV, 11
Louis XVI, 15
Louisiana Purchase, 35
Macomb, General, 56-57, 108, 129,
Malade River, 97, 98, 162
Mathieu, 82, 93, 95
Mexican War, 149-166, 182
Mexico, 149, 157, 160, 163, 165
Military Department of New Mexico,
Miles, Nelson A., 175-76
Mimbreno Apaches, 174
Mississippi, 42, 44, 147
Mississippi River, 36, 42, 50, 58, 80,
Missouri River, 50, 59, 80, 108
Mogollon Apaches, 175
MogoUon Mountains, 174
MoSno del Rey, 164
Monclova, 151, 152
Monroe, James, 49
Montero, 131, 135
Nashville, Tennessee, 42
Natchez Trace, 42
Navaho Indians, 173, 176-77
Neiss, Susan (second wife of Ben-
jamin), 183, 185
New England, 41, 44
New Mexico, 148, 157, 166, 170,
171, 176, 178, 179
New Orleans, Louisiana, 36, 42, 50,
New Rochelle, New York, 28, 32, 37
New York, 27
New York City, 24, 28, 33, 34, 37,
39, 47, 53, 56, 57, 58, 129, 138
Nez Perce- Indians, 86-87, 89, 90, 93,
106, 122-24, 184
Norfolk, Virginia, 21-24, 27
Ohio River, 36, 42
Ogden's River (Humboldt), 126
Osage Indians, 43, 44, 45, 46
Oregon, 169, 186
Oregon country, 45, 50, 56, 80, 81,
148, 169, 179
Oregon Trail, 132
Pacific Ocean, 36, 106, 128
Paine, Thomas, 12, 13, 16, 18, 20,
23-28, 38, 39, 43, 48, 54, 63, 141,
142, 144, 180
Pambrun, 124, 133, 134
Paris, 10, 23, 34, 47
Partridge, Alden, 41
Pena, chief, 176
Pend Oreille Indians, 90, 106
Pierre's Hole, 68, 76, 81, 83, 102
Pinal Mountains, 176
Piney Woods, 43
Pittsburgh, 42, 58, 138
Plan del Rio, 158
Platte River, 67, 68, 80, 107
Pompadour, Marquise de la, 11
Poor Devil Indians, 116, 126
Popo Agie, 80, 108, 111, 182
Portland, Oregon, 9
Port Neuf River, 117, 118, 125
Poteau River, 44
Potomac River, 49
Presidio del Rio Grande, 151
Pryor, Nathaniel, 45
Puebla de los Angeles, 160
Racine, Jean Baptiste, 39
Red Buttes, 73
Red River, 148
Reports to War Department, 57, 79,
87, 105-108, 130, 131, 137, 141,
184, 185; quoted, 107-108, 141
Rio Grande River, 148, 149, 150,
151, 161, 166, 171, 174
River Buenaventura, 109, 126, 131
Robert Thompson, 45
Rocky Mountain Fur Company, 78,
109, 111, 112, 126, 135
Rocky Mountains, 35, 51, 56, 62, 63,
68, 73, 74, 156, 169, 179, 184
Rogue River Indians, 170
Root Digger Indians, 118, 126, 127
Rousseau, Jean Jacques, 39
"Run Here, Dog," 21
Salt Lake, 80, 109, 110, 126, 185
Salt Lake City, 9
San Antonio, 149, 151
Sangre de Gristo Range, 172
San Joaquin Valley, 128
San Juan de Ulua, 154, 156
Santa Anna, Lopez de, 148-49, 153,
157, 159, 160, 163, 164, 166
Santa Fe, 80, 148, 149, 152, 157,
Santa Fe Trail, 61, 148, 170
Santa Fe Weekly, 176, 179,
Scott, Winfield, 154, 156, 157, 158,
"See the Conquering Hero Comes/'
Seminole Indians, 145-46
Seton, Alfred, 58
Shakespeare, William, 39
Shoshone Indians, 35
Sierra Nevada Range, Mexico, 160
Sierras, California, 128
Smith, Jedediah, 80, 109, 110
Snake River, 80, 83, 95, 96, 107,
117-120, 131, 132, 134
South Pass, 74
Steck (Apache agent), 176
Stewart, William Drummond, 111
Sublette, Bill, 62, 97
Sublette, Milton, 97, 98
Sweetwater River, 73
Tampico, Florida, 154
Taos, New Mexico, 80
Tar Spring, 111
Taylor, Zachary, 149, 153, 166
Texas, 148, 149, 166
Tour of the Prairies, A, 140
Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, 166
United States, 34, 35, 40, 51, 80, 87,
109, 148, 149, 161, 184
United States Army, 48, 51, 56, 137,
United States Navy, 46, 48
United States Marines, 48
Vera Cruz, 154, 156-60
Verdigris River, 45, 46, 55
Virginia, 146, 180
Walker, Joe, 61-63, 65-69, 74, 76-
85, 93, 94, 96, 97, 109, 110, 126-
28, 131, 136, 137, 138, 170, 171,
Walla WaUa River, 124
Wallowa Mountains, 120, 121, 131
War Department, 47, 56, 57, 79, 87,
105, 106, 107, 108, 112, 113, 121,
129, 137, 141, 184
War of 1812, 40
Washington, George, 49
Washington City, 34, 49, 50, 51,
129, 130, 138
Washington Territory, 169
"Way, you Rio," 150
West Point, 37, 40, 41, 44, 48, 58,
141, 150, 158
White House, 34
Willamette River, 106, 133
Wind River, 80, 111, 135, 182
Wind River Mountains, 73, 74, 108,
115, 117, 151, 174
Wool, John E., 149, 150, 152, 153,
Wyeth, Nathaniel, 112
"Yankee Doodle/' 66, 154
Yellowstone River, 80, 108